Friday, August 11, 2017

2017-18 Premier League Predictions (thus far)

      The 2017-18 Premier League season is upon us, which means it is invariably time for predictions. Making Premier League predictions at this time of the year is actually quite difficult, because clubs have not finished their transfer activities as of yet, and dramatic shifts in squad composition can often change the narrative and predictions. Because of this, the predictions here will be updated in a further post when the transfer window shuts at the end of the month, but until then these are the official Matt's Sports Musings Premier League predictions, at least for the next 21 days.

20. Brighton & Hove Albion

It is great to see the Seagulls in the top flight for the first time in 35 years, and with Chris Hughton, they have an experienced manager who will help them through the grind that is a top flight season. But they don't have the quality in their squad to compete realistically with their relegation rivals, even though they are now investing more money. It will be a short, but sweet return for Brighton in the top flight.

19. Burnley

Burnley found a way to stay up last year by being remarkably effective at Turf Moor and almost discounting their road form entirely. But this season, after selling Michael Keane and Andre Gray, they will be in some serious trouble because that home form isn't necessarily replicable, and their squad is weaker than it was a season ago. Sean Dyche is a great manager, but he'll have to perform some miracles to keep the Clarets up this year.

18. Huddersfield Town

David Wagner is a great younger manager that will become easy to like and admire, thanks to his Jurgen Klopp similarities. His Terries will play a brand of football much like a Terrier; aggressive, exciting if a bit out of control at times. Their budget is small, but they've made smart additions in order to give themselves a fighting chance to stay up. The likelihood is that they won't, but at least they'll be easy on the eyes in their first top flight campaign since 1972.

17. Swansea City

After much managerial turmoil last season, Paul Clement helped to stabilize a Swansea team that needed direction or else they'd be heading down. They got it in the nick of time. They have strengthened that much, and to this point they still have Gylfi Sigurdsson in one of the summer's most protracted transfer sagas. They have questions just about everywhere on the pitch, but fewer questions seemingly than the three clubs below them.

16. Crystal Palace

After another Big Sam rescue job, Palace are still kicking in the Premier League despite coming ever-so-close to going down. Frank De Boer comes in to replace Big Sam and he has some career rehabilitation to do after a disastrous spell at Inter. He's only brought in three players, two of them on loan, and the squad still has some sore spots that need to be addressed. But if he can get the best out of Christian Benteke, Palace should be able to survive another turbulent season at the bottom of the table.

15. Watford

A club no stranger to turmoil in the dugout and the dressing room, Watford again went with more changes when they hired Marco Silva and invested heavily in English talent this summer. With the additions of Nathaniel Chalobah, Will Hughes and Andre Gray, the club is trying to give Marco Silva more to work with than they did the previous manager, Walter Mazzarri. Silva has shown good tactical acumen before, and with a much deeper squad than he had at Hull, he should be able to do enough to keep Watford safe.

14. West Bromwich Albion

Once they hit 40 points, the magic number for Premier League safety, they usually switch off, and that's what happened to Tony Pulis' squad last year. This year, the same should hold true. They won't be in any real relegation danger, but they're not a top half squad either. They'll be defensively stout, scalp a few surprising wins against the big boys and do what they're supposed to do to maintain survival, but no more.

13. Stoke City

Stokealona is dead, folks. The Potters haven't invested much in new signings, and got rid of Marko Arnautovic to West Ham, leaving the squad a little bereft of quality and feeling quite stale. Mark Hughes is one of the managers who easily could be the first to be sacked because the club has quite clearly plateaued. They won't be relegated, but they need freshening up. A slow start might do enough to spark a change.

12. Newcastle United

Mike Ashley and company took a risk investing the way they did in the Championship last year, and it paid off as they won back immediate promotion. There is still an incredible amount of tension in the boardroom, but with Rafa Benitez's calming influence on a fairly decent squad, the Magpies should be able to stay up with relative ease. But, it's Newcastle, and nothing comes certain at St. James' Park.

11. Bournemouth

What Eddie Howe has done with this club is well and truly remarkable, especially considering their top flight debut was only three years ago. They've invested wisely, for the most part, and they've kept a hold of a good chunk of their squad and their growing manager too. While they haven't made too many changes this summer, the core of their squad should be plenty good enough to avoid the relegation dogfight and maybe even finish in the top half, again.

10. West Ham United

Slaven Bilic has not done much to inspire confidence recently. His team was relegation fodder at the start of last season, and the improvements this year don't really fix their defensive and tactical woes, in spite of bringing in Joe Hart. Chicharito and Marko Arnautovic should add more vigor in their attack, but it's unlikely they change the paradigm which West Ham is stuck in.

9. Leicester City

After last season's crash back to earth, Leicester should be under reasonable expectations this season. They've added smartly in some areas, but they still lack depth in others and their squad is bloated. Leicester unperformed their underlying numbers under Claudio Ranieri and then overperformed them under Craig Shakespeare. Somewhere in the middle is where this team lies, and that's probably in the 9-12 range.

8. Southampton

Saints always manage to recruit interesting managers, and Mauricio Pellegrino is another one. They've somehow kept Virgil Van Dijk despite his insistence in wanting to leave, and otherwise the squad is pretty much the same as it was a year ago. With a fresh manager and a host of players who could use an uptick in performance, Saints will win the title of "best of the rest", once again.

7. Everton

Selling Romelu Lukaku was a big deal. Bringing back in Wayne Rooney was also a big deal. There have been charges that Everton haven't invested their money wisely this summer, but this writer thinks they have. Michael Keane, Jordan Pickford and Sandro Ramirez were all smart buys, but they don't change the underlying issues that Everton faces. In the "Sky 7", they're firmly in seventh, waiting for the opportunity to pounce on someone else's mistakes.

6. Liverpool

A healthy Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah should make a very dynamic attack even more dynamic this season. Their issues up front have been fixed with Roberto Firmino playing as the furthest forward forward, alleviating the need for an out-and-out striker. But, their defensive issues remain, and there is still a nagging concern that Jurgen Klopp's team won't be able to perform the way that they should against lesser teams. There's also the Champions League, which adds extra stress to their squad which always has injury issues. They haven't done quite enough to improve based on what their rivals above them have done.

5. Spurs

They have a very, very good squad already, and only sold Kyle Walker this summer. However, they still haven't added anyone, and despite Mauricio Pochettino's insistence that new recruits are on the way, they haven't come in time for the start of the season. With their injury problems and many players who are unknowns, that could dig Spurs a hole that will be difficult to dig out of. Under Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs have also been notoriously slow starters, which is a problem, especially considering Chelsea comes to Wembley the second week of the season. Until they make the requisite additions to a squad crying out for them, they can only be placed here.

4. Arsenal

Here is Arsenal, back in their natural position of fourth. Alexandre Lacazette is a good player, but there are questions to whether he is a good replacement for Olivier Giroud up front and addresses a need. Sead Kolasinac is a useful player, but the squad still has the same issues that it has had for many years, and it remains to be seen whether the new 3-5-2 formation will be enough to prevent the staleness that has usually defined Arsenal in recent years. If Liverpool or Spurs make improvements in the market, then Arsenal is facing another year without Champions League football.

3. Manchester United

They've spent a huge amount of money to sign three big names, who should help the balance of their squad tremendously. Romelu Lukaku is certainly worth the money, Nemanja Matic fills a hole in midfield, and Victor Lindelof should help stabilize the back four. But the squad also has plenty of deadwood in it and needs freshening up in itself, and in comparison to what their Manchester rivals have done, it seems that they need to do more. They can easily win the title, but they still have to do more, it seems to be true favorites.

2. Chelsea

They have added smartly to their squad in the spine of the team. However, it still seems, according to Antonio Conte, that the squad needs depth in key places and he's right. It's amazing to think how their prodigious academy cannot seemingly produce players good enough for the first team, and that should alleviate their need to buy, but it hasn't. And without that depth, they are not title favorites. Adding in European football to the mix is going to stress the thin squad even more, and it will take some shrewd work by Conte and the technical staff to make the additions necessary to see if Chelsea can become the first team to repeat as Premier League champions in a decade.

1. Manchester City

City has spent an exorbitant amount of money to fix the ills in the squad, and they seemingly have worked wonders. Benjamin Mendy, Danilo and Kyle Walker are all incredibly important additions to fix the fullback spots, and Bernardo Silva makes a dynamic attack even more dynamic. A full season of Gabriel Jesus and his prodigious talent is also a mouth-watering prospect. The squad still has holes and deadwood that needs to be shifted out, but if the preseason is any guide, City should be favorites for the title as things stand.

So here are the predictions and projections for the 2017-18 season, which could easily be blown up depending on the changes teams make in the transfer window. But Premier League soccer is back, and it's time to stop playing Football Manager and instead play actual football.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Is FIFA's VAR going down the same road as video review in other sports?

Officiating in soccer is notoriously inconsistent, and at times horrendous. As technology has advanced rapidly, the capability now exists for decisions made by officials to not only be scrutinized on TV replays, but also by video assistant referees, or VAR. The system is making its major tournament debut at the Confederations Cup in Russia, and has already caused controversy. Is soccer heading down a path that other sports have trundled down with video review not litigating what it was intended to?

VAR has pluses and minuses, and both have already been seen in the tournament. Pepe scored a goal for Portugal against Mexico that was clearly offside, and VAR correctly overturned the call. Yet, in the following game between Chile and Cameroon, VAR overturned an Eduardo Vargas goal that may have been marginally offside, but nowhere near as egregious as what happened earlier in the day in Kazan. But even when it hasn't overturned calls, the delay to restarting games when referees are looking over plays for whatever reason has also drawn some ire, especially for goals that look to have no controversy about them whatsoever.

Naturally, as with any new system, VAR needs time to be fine-tuned by FIFA and the relevant authorities, but with the mandate to only rectify obvious mistakes, some of these early moments with VAR seem to not be following that mandate. Video review always seems fantastic in principle, but in practice, these moments where decisions split hairs always end up under the microscope more than they probably should, and soccer isn't the first sport where this has become the case.

Each of football, basketball, baseball and hockey all saw these growing pains when introducing instant replay to their sports in order to get calls correct. In hockey's example, coaches challenges were introduced after an egregious missed offside call in a Nashville/Colorado game led to a Predators goal, but now, coaches challenges litigate micrometers that may put a play offside as well as determining whether skates are on the ice or above it. The red flags, so to speak, were supposed to eliminate the egregious miscarriages of justice, but instead began litigating tiny things which can and have changed seasons.

Most everyone acknowledges that the human element of officiating causes referees to miss calls that they should catch, and that instant replay/VAR/coaches challenges do help get calls correct, which is the ultimate goal. But when Pandora's Box was opened, immediate problems became evident. It's happened in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL and in soccer, a sport where even more decisions fall under the referee's jurisdiction, some of the surprises inside Pandora's Box are coming with correcting obvious and blatant mistakes.

Instant replay is necessary in modern sports because of the technology and especially what the fans see at home when they could potentially know more about a play than the referees do. But when there are delays, many of them needless, and when calls that split hairs end up being extensively litigated when they don't need to be, these are the kind of discussions that everyone has to have.

In the end, getting the call right is paramount. In a sport like soccer, "right" is often in a grey area where the lines are blurred, making the lives of the referees on the pitch and in the video booth harder than ever when fortunes can hinge on inches and millimeters.

When a World Cup might be won or lost on a decision like this, VAR could see its ultimate vindication. Or, it could end up being at the center of controversy if a World Cup is won or lost on a controversial call. Such is what happens when Pandora's Box is opened, and FIFA is finding the good and bad in VAR after only using it in four games.

Work needs to be done to make the system better, and only time will tell if VAR becomes the NHL's coaches challenges, or the NFL's much more refined system, or even something in between.

Friday, May 12, 2017

My White Hart Lane Story

SB Nation's fantastic Tottenham Hotspur blog, Cartilage Free Captain, is posting stories from supporters about White Hart Lane, the venerable old ground for the club that will host its final game on Sunday against Manchester United. Since they have quite a backlog of stories to post, and seeing as they'll likely not post a story solely about a guided tour, it's probably best that I post my own story here.

But even though my story is only about a guided tour, it still is my only experience with the ground for a club that has quickly become one of my deepest rooting interests. When I went on that guided tour back in the summer of 2012, I had only been a "Spurs supporter" for maybe a year at most, and was still learning the lay of the English soccer landscape and what it meant to support Tottenham Hotspur. I had already learned the hard way that it would be a struggle after a certain Champions League Final with a certain club that shall not be named, but that pain wasn't quite as searing as it would be for supporters with longer histories.

In my lifetime as a sports fan, I've only seen one of my team's stadiums close down, and that was Shea Stadium for the Mets. I went to one game there that was called after 4.5 innings because of rain, and I only needed that long to learn that Shea was an absolute dump. But, since I had only been there once, I didn't quite feel the emotional attachment to it that many others did, so I wasn't that sad to see it go. But with White Hart Lane, I've felt something different, despite like Shea, only going there once.

When you see where White Hart Lane is, you marvel at how stadiums can appear in places like that in the first place, but then you realize it's been there in some form or another since 1899! Quite a bit changes from 1899 to 2012 when I sauntered up to it. And then you realize that it's actually kind of... dinky. English soccer is defined by cathedrals like Old Trafford and Anfield, and while White Hart Lane has plenty of history, it certainly doesn't meet those standards. The day I turned up also turned out to be the day that Spurs legend Ledley King had announced his retirement, which made the day a little more special. Even an idiot like me could sing the great Ledley King chant about him playing on one knee.

Inside the ground, what struck me was just how... small it was. The concourses barely fit three people across, the concession stands to buy pies weren't much more than shacks, and the plastic seats barely were able to fit 18 year old me and my then overweight frame. If you sat in just the wrong spot, you'd have a support post blocking your view of the pitch, too. But looking around at the whole stadium from those seats, and then the player's tunnel, you realized that was the charm of the place. With everything just not right by modern standards and the pitch being just small enough for Spurs to easily exploit it when they were good, you realized that everyone that played for Spurs and supported Spurs at that ground left a little bit of themselves there (in a good way).

In the tour, we saw pictures of all of the club legends that even I knew by heart at that point; Bill Nicholson, Ozzie and Ricky, Klinsmann, King and so many others. We saw the few trophies that Spurs had won, including the two UEFA Cup's, a Champions League ball from the magical 2010-11 campaign, which was even more special to see then because at that time it seemed like Spurs would never play in the Champions League again and even the dressing room, with the kits of players that would soon be sold to Real Madrid. And through all of it, I felt like I belonged there.

Keep in mind that my choosing an English soccer team to support was an un-scientific process that boiled down to rooting for a club that wasn't swimming in oil money, not owned by an idiotic American (much easier to do then than now) and was just good enough to be seen on FOX Soccer every weekend, basically leaving me with Spurs and Everton to pick. I settled on Spurs because I had a distant family member who used to have season tickets at the Lane, figuring that would be a good excuse and front if I ever had to explain myself. But sitting in the Spurs dugout that day, and trying to convince my guide that Clint Dempsey would actually be a good signing and just hoping that Andre Villas-Boas wouldn't be an awful manager, I felt like I belonged at Spurs.

The club was just good enough to attract idiotic Americans like me to their cause, but not good enough that they won all the time. They had a history, a soul, and a passion that just wasn't present at Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal that made the experience of supporting them seemingly worthwhile. And that day at White Hart Lane confirmed to me what I already thought: I made a good decision.

I left that day thinking I'd be back to see a game there once, and it never happened. That will be one of the biggest regrets of my life. But at least I can say I was there once, if just for a tour. I know that I'll see many games at the new stadium, maybe even call a game or two there. But White Hart Lane has a little piece of every Spurs supporter there, even a dummy like me who was there only for a tour. And since it's the first time I've ever watched a stadium like the Lane close down for one of my teams, it's a new feeling. But seeing how Spurs have become such a fundamental part of me in just six short years of fandom, I can't imagine what longer term supporters and those who have been around the club way longer than I have are thinking heading into the final game. My best Spurs experiences were waking up preposterously early to watch games and then yelling at my TV when they did something stupid. What could the same thoughts be like for people whose best Spurs experiences were watching Derby wins at the Lane and chanting how Ledley King playing on one knee will always be better than John Terry?

My abiding memory of the Lane will be talking to a steward about how Clint Dempsey will actually be good for Spurs if we signed him. That's my unique White Hart Lane memory, and it will always be mine. The picture I took looking at the golden cockerel which has watched over the Lane since 1899 and the entire stadium is still my phone background, and it probably always will be. When the stadium gets torn down bit by bit, a very small part of me is going with it.

And while that part of me is miniscule compared to the hundreds of thousands of Spurs supporters who left a bigger part of themselves there, I can say that I was there, and that my White Hart Lane experience, like my Spurs fandom, is unique to me and unique to this bizarre, maddening, but brilliant club that we all share.

I just spilled a lot of virtual ink for a ridiculous hunk of sheetmetal that I went to once, in a part of London no tourist ever ventures to for a club that I've supported for maybe six years.

But that's Tottenham Hotspur, and that's White Hart Lane.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mike Milbury and the NHL's Popularity Crisis

    Last Friday night, PK Subban of the Predators was warming up for Game 2 against the St. Louis Blues by dancing. Not only can I not tell any hockey player how to warm up or not to warm up because that is far out of my purview, but far be it of me to tell PK Subban how to do anything related to hockey or even life. But on NBC's pregame coverage of the game, Mike Milbury, the utmost and highest authority on all hockey matters (at least he believes this), called Subban a "clown" for warming up like this.

   Now while I struggle to take anything seriously that Milbury says about hockey because he once attacked a fan in the stands with his own shoe, all hockey fans in the US have taken this comment seriously because it reflects on a major problem with the NHL, it's only rightsholder in the US and the problem of hockey's popularity in the US all in one fell swoop. And if the NHL wants to break through to the casual sports fan and create more hockey fans in general in this country, comments like that one from Mike Milbury about one of the games biggest stars isn't just an impediment against that growth; it's an active deterrent.

   NHL coverage in the US is in a fairly precarious place at the moment. As ESPN has gotten out of covering hockey almost entirely, there are very few places to turn to for coverage of the game outside of the NHL's only US rightsholder, NBC. And when hockey fans only hope for salvation and love of the game they so cherish comes from a network that employs talent that calls PK Subban a "clown" for dancing during warmups, what are hockey fans supposed to think about how networks view the sport they love? Sure, hot take artists are all the rage in sports television right now and maybe NBC thinks comments like this, which can be construed as thinly veiled racism, will stir the pot when everyone else is talking about LeBron, the Warriors or the Cowboys. But when hockey is such a non-factor to the casual sports fan, comments like this don't move the needle, and instead just serve to anger the small but incredibly dedicated fanbase of US hockey fans.

     And the real shame of it all is that NHL Network has been improving dramatically over the past few years. The network is hiring analysts like Kevin Weekes, Mike Johnson, Ryan Whitney, John MacLean and a host of others who cover the sport in ways the US audience generally hasn't seen before. But, NHL Network's audience is still a fraction of what NBCSN draws in for its coverage, which in of itself is a fraction of the sports marketplace in general. While the casual sports fan who occasionally tunes into the Stanley Cup Playoffs isn't going to necessarily cringe at the comments Milbury has made, where are they going to go if they want more meaningful coverage of the sport and learn about these players and teams for themselves? NHL Network isn't readily available, the hot take shows on ESPN and FS1 certainly don't cover hockey (though we should be thankful for that), and it takes effort to follow this sport in a way that it doesn't for any other major sport, even soccer.

     NBC Sports is the steward of hockey right now in the NHL. Since no other sports network gives barely a mention to league issues, storylines and players, NBC is the only place American fans can legally tune into on television en masse to watch games and hear commentary on the league and its issues. And when its major imprint on hockey coverage is Mike Milbury making another dumb comment, what else are hockey fans to say but, "why?" They legitimately can't go almost anywhere else to find coverage of the game, and these comments instead end up defining the only coverage of the NHL anywhere in the US to the point that the die-hards are tuning out, which isn't good for the league or the sport.

    Even though the NHL has a very obvious and not subtle role in deciding who the talent is on the NHL's front facing coverage on both sides of the border, expecting them to do something here is unlikely. Therefore it is incumbent on NBC to change its ways in order to not only grow the game for the sake of growing the game, but for its own bottom line. Bringing over more names from NHL Network as analysts is a start, along with hiring an insider that can break news on their own so hockey fans can go to them instead of local sources or up to Canada for that information.

   NBC's deal with the NHL lasts until 2021, and if they want to fully reap the rewards of it, and perhaps keep the league beyond then as a foundation of their cable sports network, changing their ways is a must. Become a destination for US hockey fans to find news, analysis and commentary, not just a place where they have to watch the games. Bringing on an in-house insider, minimize the voices like Mike Milbury and bringing in analysts from NHL Network is one way to start building back the trust between themselves and US hockey fans, and are steps that need to be taken.

   Coverage of the NHL and hockey in the US is in a precarious place at the moment. With almost no outside network coverage, NBC is basically the only destination for fans to go to to find the coverage they crave. And when they are given nonsense by Mike Milbury, it's a slap in the face by the only network in the country that has decided the NHL is worthwhile.

   For a company that produces the NFL and the Premier League so well, it still boggles the mind at how NBC can't cover hockey in the same way. And much like football and soccer fans deserve the coverage they get, hockey fans do too.

   If the NHL wants to grow the game in this country at a time where it seems to be stagnating or fading from view, the league needs to pressure NBC to make changes to their coverage. Hockey fans can only go so many places to find the coverage they want and crave, so why can't they get it from the league's only stakeholder in the US?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

2017 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

I'm never good with these predictions because they always end up being wrong, but here are my 2017 Stanley Cup Playoff predictions (God help me):

Eastern Conference Playoffs:
(M1) Washington over (WC2) Toronto in 5
(M2) Pittsburgh over (M3) Columbus in 6
(WC1) New York over (A1) Montreal in 6
(A3) Boston over (A2) Ottawa in 6

(M1) Washington over (M2) Pittsburgh in 7
(WC1) New York over (A3) Boston in 6

(M1) Washington over (WC1) New York in 6

Western Conference Playoffs:
(C1) Chicago over (WC2) Nashville in 6
(C2) Minnesota over (C3) St. Louis in 6
(P1) Anaheim over (WC1) Calgary in 5
(P3) San Jose over (P2) Edmonton in 7

(C1) Chicago over (C2) Minnesota in 6
(P1) Anaheim over (P3) San Jose in 6

(P1) Anaheim over (C1) Chicago in 7

2017 Stanley Cup Final: (M1) Washington over (P1) Anaheim in 5

Conn Smythe: Alex Ovechkin.

This is the year. I can feel it. Go Caps.

2016-17 NHL Season Predictions in Review

As I tend to do with every sports league I make serious predictions for, at the start of the postseason, I enjoy taking a look back at the predictions I made so long ago, especially looking back at how wrong I was. This year had even more turnover than expected in the NHL, so the wrong predictions I made will look even worse in hindsight. So before I post my playoff predictions (which will be right on top of this post), here's a look at what I got right, and wrong, in the NHL this season:

My Metro Predictions:
1. Washington (WSH)
2. Pittsburgh (PIT)
3. Philadelphia (CBJ)
4. New York Islanders (NYR)
5. New York Rangers (NYI)
6. Carolina (PHI)
7. New Jersey (CAR)
8. Columbus (NJ)

The biggest whiff that I made, and everyone else made, was the rise of the Columbus Blue Jackets. No one had them sniffing the playoffs, let alone finishing with the fourth most points in the NHL. Torts and a cap strapped team that hadn't shown much improvement figured to be a recipe for disaster, and it wasn't. How they do in the postseason remains to be seen, but they made just a few people eat crow. We also slightly overstated the Islanders and Flyers, who both regressed after playoff appearances last year, and slightly underrated the Rangers, who had more scoring than we expected.

My Atlantic Predictions:
1. Tampa Bay (MTL)
2. Florida (OTT)
3. Montreal (BOS)
4. Boston (TOR)
5. Detroit (TB)
6. Buffalo (FLA)
7. Ottawa (DET)
8. Toronto (BUF)

Heh. This division turned out to be topsy-turvy thanks to injury, a few egomaniacal owners and some insane goaltending. Montreal rebounded to make the postseason, and so too did Boston, who I figured would be just on the outside looking in. But both Ontario teams making it is a huge shock. Ottawa may have done it with some smoke and mirrors, but the Leafs are here maybe a year ahead of schedule. They are going to be terrifying in the years ahead, though they'll be sacrificial lambs to Washington this year. Buffalo is still skidding their wheels, and the Wings finally had the bottom fall out.

My Central Predictions:
1. Nashville (CHI)
2. Dallas (MIN)
3. St. Louis (STL)
4. Chicago (NSH)
5. Minnesota (WPG)
6. Colorado (DAL)
7. Winnipeg (COL)

Nashville was still pretty good, but just not quite as good as some folks thought. Chicago, despite their roster turnover, got some amazing performances from young players to prove that they are wizards and thus, won the Central again. They may have to take a few lumps again in the playoffs, but they're still the Blackhawks. St. Louis was still solid despite firing their coach and trading away their best defenseman, and Minnesota got the Boudreau effect to somewhat overperform. Winnipeg made a late charge up the standings, while Dallas and Colorado had the bottom fall out.

1. San Jose (ANA)
2. Los Angeles (EDM)
3. Calgary (SJ)
4. Anaheim (CGY)
5. Edmonton (LA)
6. Arizona (ARZ)
7. Vancouver (VAN)

Anaheim continues to win the Pacific division despite now being coached by Randy Carlyle and somehow avoiding serious regression, which is insane to me and many others. San Jose took a slight step back, but they're still the Sharks, and scary good when healthy. I'd like to take some credit for thinking Calgary would make the playoffs, but when most people overrated LA and underrated Edmonton, that's hard to do.

Awards Predictions, with commentary:
Hart: Alex Ovechkin (Not one of his better seasons, it's probably going to be Connor)
Norris: Erik Karlsson (It's either him or Brent Burns)
Calder: Patrik Laine (In most years, he'd win it. But Auston Matthews had 40 goals in Toronto)
Vezina: Carey Price (He'll be nominated, but a certain Bob in Columbus has this on lock)
Jack Adams: Bill Peters (Torts man, Torts. Or Babcock.)
Rocket Richard: Ovi (Sid had 44)
Art Ross: Connor McDavid (Yep)

Time for some playoff predictions, so if you want 'em, look up.

Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 MLB Season Predictions

Even as it feels as if it has snuck up on us, the 2017 MLB season begins this weekend. After last year's incredible season for both the Indians and the Cubs, it feels like it may well be hard to top all of the drama and demons and stories that permeated every day throughout the season. However, the league is getting younger, more athletic, and the big guns are still in line to be really, really good. While a 108 year title drought is over, there is still plenty to look forward to in 2017. So, let's look forward, shall we?

AL East:

1) Boston
2) Toronto
3) Baltimore
4) New York Yankees
5) Tampa Bay

NL East:

1) New York Mets (this is a homer pick but I don't care)
2) Washington
3) Philadelphia
4) Miami
5) Atlanta

AL Central:

1) Cleveland
2) Detroit
3) Kansas City
4) Chicago White Sox
5) Minnesota

NL Central:

1) Chicago Cubs
2) St. Louis
3) Pittsburgh
4) Milwaukee
5) Cincinnati

AL West:

1) Houston
2) Seattle
3) Texas
4) Anaheim
5) Oakland

NL West:

1) Los Angeles
2) San Francisco
3) Colorado
4) Arizona
5) San Diego

AL Wild Cards: 1) Toronto, 2) Seattle

NL Wild Cards: 1) Washington, 2) San Francisco

AL Playoffs:

ALDS: Cleveland over Toronto in 4
             Boston over Houston in 5

ALCS: Cleveland over Boston in 6

NL Playoffs: 

NLDS: Chicago over San Francisco in 4
             Los Angeles over New York in 5

NLCS: Los Angeles over Chicago in 7

2017 World Series: Dodgers over Indians in 6

Awards Predictions:

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Corey Seager
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
NL Cy Young: Thor! (Another homer pick from yours truly)
AL Rookie: Andrew Benintendi
NL Rookie: Dansby Swanson
AL Manager: Scott Servais
NL Manager: Dave Roberts

Simple, and effective. Last year, I was wrong, but not hysterically wrong (I had the Blue Jays and Giants in the World Series). I'm going a little against the grain this year, because it's not like the Dodgers winning is going way out on a limb, but with that lineup and that bullpen and two dynamite starters, they have a good a chance as any. If they solve the back end of that rotation, and they have the prospects and cash to do so, they can win it this year, though they'll have to grind their way through a brutal National League to do it.