General Sports Chatter

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Main Event

      Last night, the world was captivated by the newest "fight of the century" between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Many in this country plunked down 100 of their hard earned dollars to watch the fight, and then many of those same people moaned about it after Mayweather had won. Personally, I wasn't interested in an event where a serial bigot faced off against a serial domestic abuser in a sport whose object is to punch your opponent repeatedly in the face, but I must not be as neolithic as many Americans, or citizens of the world. But did the majority of people who watched the fight and gave it so much attention really want a revival of boxing? No.

    The sports culture, and indeed the entertainment culture of the United States, is defined by our collective love of an event. The Mayweather-Pacquiao bout was another in a long line of events that have captivated the country, but our collective OCD forces us to wipe it from memory soon after it ended.

    One of boxing's great champions, Howard Cosell, disowned the sport almost 30 years ago. Boxing hasn't captivated the country's attention so much as the hype of a big fight has, and so many after Cosell have noticed that. Tyson, Lewis, Leonard, Holyfield, and right on down the line have all been involved in big fights that have drawn considerable attention, but it hasn't meant that boxing is undergoing a revival in the American sports conscience. We watch because it's an event, with spectacle, panache and intrigue.

    Earlier in the day, Horse Racing took center stage with the Kentucky Derby. If one just looked at the numbers, they'd probably surmise America loved horse racing. Would a triple crown winner as American Pharaoh could be really boost the popularity of horse racing in this country? No. The Belmont Stakes would be just another event that captured the country's attention, because of the spectacle, panache and most importantly, the ability to gamble. A Triple Crown winner would be great, but in the same way that a prized heavyweight bout is a great sight, and right on down the line.

   Every four years, this country is captivated and entranced by the stories of the Olympic Games, both summer and winter. Does this country really love cross-country skiing, moguls, ice dancing, track, swimming or gymnastics as sports, or spectacles? There are obviously many that are devotees of those sports, but the majority who watch these sports even on tape delay during the Olympics watch because they are events; events that have human interest stories intertwined with the competition. Throw in a bit of noxious patriotism and voila, ratings.

   As much as I wanted last summer's World Cup viewing numbers to mean something for the sport of soccer in this country, the US/Portugal, US/Ghana and US/Belgium games were again nothing more than events; chances to sit around the collective figurative bonfire and celebrate our country together, even for a sport that not too many follow religiously. It's just like the Olympics, only with a different face.

   Even though the American sport of choice is football, what is the Super Bowl other than a massive event? It has everything: noxious patriotism, overt capitalism, a concert in the middle of the game, and more people watch any given Super Bowl in this country than live in about 190 countries around the globe. Not everyone who watches the Super Bowl is a football fan; many are watching for the commercials, or the halftime show, or because they're at a party with friends. The Super Bowl is a football showcase, but it's an event for the general public too.

  Why are award shows guaranteed ratings bringers? Award shows of absolutely no consequence draw at least 10 million viewers for the alphabet networks and many others, because they are events. Nothing more. Do many people really care about who won the Grammy for best R&B album? Unless you're a true devotee, or a devotee of quiz night at the pub, of course not. But it's live, a show for the senses and again a chance to come together as a collective, so naturally they'll all draw ratings. Heck, the Kids Choice Sports Awards, quite possibly the most useless awards show in the history of award shows is probably going to draw five million viewers in the dead of summer because... Events! We all love our events!

   All of that was a long-winded way of saying: The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was nothing more than another event that America became obsessed with, and it will be an event quickly forgotten when the next big event comes around. That's who we are as sports fans, and as Americans.

   So anyone who was talking about this fight as one that would bring boxing back into the popular mindspace of sports fans, or that when it ended it would be boxing's death knell:

   If another fight can garner the hype and the intrigue, I'll certainly be writing this same piece once again whenever that happens.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Some NFL Draft 1st Round Musings

  These are some general observations from the first night of the 2015 NFL Draft. They're in no particular order or tied together with any theme, but these are just some musings and notable items from the first night of the draft.

-- Jameis to the Bucs, no surprise: Even though it became clear the Eagles wanted to make a move, and apparently offered a lot to get up to the #1 pick, the Bucs made the wise move and selected Winston. He's by no means a sure thing, but Lovie Smith and company needed this QB and he has all the tools to be a successful NFL QB. He already has some decent weapons around him, so Winston could be in for some early successes.

-- Mariota to the Titans is a slightly larger surprise: Again with the Eagles and Bears apparently sniffing around trading up to this selection, the Titans went and took another QB in the first round, but this too is wise. Going with Zach Mettenberger is a big risk no matter how decent he looked last season, and even if the trade package the Eagles offered was large (and reportedly it was), taking the QB is again the right call. The only problem is unlike in Tampa, Mariota will have little to no weapons around him, and only a mediocre defense on the other side. The learning curve for the former Oregon Duck is going to be pretty steep in Nashville.

-- Leonard Williams' fall makes the Jets defense even scarier: The Jets already had Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, David Harris, Calvin Pace, Darrelle Revi, Buster Skrine and Antonio Cromartie, and now Leonard Williams joins the fold. Good luck scoring any points against the Jets next season. If the offense can even be halfway decent, the Jets are a playoff contender and possibly more. Whether the Jets trade Wilkerson or not may mean little in the overall scheme, as the defense is scary with or without him.

-- The Running Backs return! Both the Rams and Chargers decided to cast their lot with first round running backs after none were taken in the last 2 drafts. Todd Gurley's health is obviously an issue, but the Rams running back depth should be able to get them through until he is ready. Some have said he is the best running back to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson, and he fell in the draft like Gurley. Melvin Gordon is also a fantastic running back, but to see the Chargers trade up for him was a bit strange. The value in trading down was good for San Francisco, but the Bolts did need a running back in the worst way, and Gordon should be able to take on the bulk of the workload for Philip Rivers and the Chargers this season.

-- The Eagles tried to trade up for Marcus Mariota, but found their Jeremy Maclin replacement instead: Nelson Agholor is not the best receiver in this draft, but the fact that he fell to 20 shows how deep this draft is at the position. He is a speed burner, and adds an immediate deep threat for Sam Bradford and the Eagles next season that they lacked when Jeremy Maclin moved on to Kansas City. Philadelphia may still be a bit short at the position (not like it matters much since they have all of the running backs known to man), but they addressed a need well without totally mortgaging their future to do it.

-- The Steelers and Broncos draft wildly different pass rushers: The Steelers may have been a bit lucky to see Bud Dupree fall to 22, but again he fills a glaring need for the Steelers who are one of the most consistent drafting teams in the NFL. One pick behind them, the Broncos traded up to pick Shane Ray (insert your weed joke here), and they paid a hefty price to get him. The difference in one pick can often be the chasm between a hit and a bust, and these 2 pass rushers may be proof positive of that.

-- Thomas Davis announces the man who may take his job: Thomas Davis has been a consistent presence for the Carolina Panthers since he was drafted in the first round in 2005. 10 years later, he announced that the 2 time defending NFC South Champions had taken Shaq Thompson, the LB/S out of Washington. This may have been one of the few true surprises in the first round, but putting him next to Luke Kuechly could be truly scary. The Panthers still have holes on their offensive line, in their receiving corps and in their secondary, but it's hard to turn down a player like that. Even with their cap issues, new GM Dave Gettleman has been incredibly impressive in his first few years in Carolina.

There are probably many more (and better) observations out there. But here are just a few of mine. It hasn't been the worlds most interesting draft, but there are always interesting picks to dissect and digest. The greater intrigue comes in the later rounds (incredibly biased statement: I hope the Jaguars draft Stefon Diggs).

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round Preview

    That first round was fun, wasn't it? Usually the first round is the most fun of all of them, but I have a funny feeling that the second round (or division finals as they should be called) will be just as good if not better. It probably has something to do with the rematches we'll be seeing, but even then the matchups are still good on their own. So here are the preview for the next 4 series in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Capitals/Rangers: If you're feeling a strong sense of deja vu, you're likely not the only one. The Rangers and Capitals have played in the playoffs what seems like every year since 2008, and since none of those series have a truly distinct characters, they all blend together. It's like old Patrick Division mush. Will this year be any different? The Capitals look like they have a resourcefullness they didn't have under messrs Boudreau, Hunter and Oates, and credit Barry Trotz for a lot of that (and Evgeny Kuznetsov). Even though they put their Game 7 demons behind them against the Islanders, they still don't make series easy on themselves. The Rangers played a quite mediocre brand of hockey against Pittsburgh, but won in 5 games since the Penguins were icing the Owen Sound Attack's blueline instead of an NHL unit. If the Rangers play like that against the Capitals, they'll lose. They also couldn't score, and without Mats Zuccarello, scoring may be even harder to come by. But, something is telling me that's unlikely. Every team on its way to the Cup needs a scare, and the Rangers look like they've had one. They're just a bit deeper than the Capitals in every position, and that should be enough to push them through.

Lightning/Canadiens: In the playoffs one season ago, the Canadiens dispatched the Ben Bishop-less Lightning in a sweep. This regular season, the Bolts played the Habs 5 times, and won all 5. Carey Price seemed to be fooled by the Lightning in the games he played against them this season, rare for the goaltender that might well win both the Vezina and the Hart. But the Habs showed something extra when they played the Senators; an extra bit of guile that it seemed they lacked when they faced adversity. Then again, so did the Lightning with their Game 7 win over Detroit. What's amazing is that the Lightning won this series with Steven Stamkos notching only 3 assists, no goals. If he's truly not hurt, the goals will come at some point. He played well against Montreal during the regular season meetings. At some point, Price will come back down to earth just enough to where their lack of scoring will finally nip them in the back. If the Triplets continue to play as they have so far, it will be here.

Wild/Blackhawks: Another series that might induce a strong case of deja vu, because these teams are becoming quite familiar with each other in postseason play. In a season where there was no distinct Cup favorite, the Blackhawks became to many the most solid team in the Western Conference. With Patrick Kane back, and almost looking like himself, the Hawks are playing like a true Cup contender again. But don't discount the Wild. They're an incredibly difficult team to play against, and with the commemorative blu-ray stories of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter now starting to really motivate the Wild, they have a good chance. They've learned plenty on how to play the Blackhawks from the last 2 series against them, and with a bit more scoring depth and a red hot Devan Dubnyk, they could easily get past Chicago. But, these Blackhawks look like the Blackhawks of old, and that's not good for Minnesota. While the Wild have a better chance than they've ever had, it doesn't seem like they have enough to beat Chicago.

Flames/Ducks: So what happens when you put two teams against each other who have a strong knack for crazy comebacks? Nobody scores until overtime? While that would be fun,it's unlikely. But the major difference between Calgary and Anaheim is that the Flames are a young team that doesn't take no for an answer, and the Ducks are a veteran team that doesn't care that they started out a game poorly. The veterans absolutely tore through the upstart kids that were the Winnipeg Jets (with ruthless precision), and it feels like the same is going to happen to the Flames. Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are all fun to watch individually, and more fun to watch when they play together, but there's something quite business-like about how this Ducks team has gone about its business. It feels like the Flames have run into a buzzsaw, which means everyone is going to hate Ryan Kesler even more than they do now. It's fun to have a pantomime villain in the playoffs, and the Ducks will cement that reputation if they end the Flames' magic carpet ride.

Picks:   NYR over WSH in 6
             TB over MTL in 6.
             CHI over MIN in 6
             ANA over CGY in 6

Friday, April 24, 2015

Hockey and Misogyny

          I shouldn't have to continue writing the same piece over and over again. I wrote this piece back when Flyers fans pressured the team to bring back Ice Girls in September. I wrote something similar to this recently too. And now, after a cavalcade of stories have emerged about the maltreatment of women or implication that women are lesser at recent playoff games, it's time to rant. And this might not be coherent, or interspersed with magnificent prose; it might just be a flat rant. But that's what needed right now. Treating women as human beings or as equals as sports fans is not something I should have to type anymore. But here we are... AGAIN...
 
        It started last Friday when a female Senators fan was taunted and called derogatory slurs at the Sens-Habs Game 2 at the Bell Centre. The ushers did absolutely nothing to help her out (presumably because she was wearing the wrong sweater), and it only took Eugene Melnyk and the Senators to put her up in the owners box for Game 3 to right the wrong another team caused.

        Then, there came the "Katy Perry" chants from Winnipeg Jets fans towards Corey Perry. While Jets fans are usually the smartest and most cunning when it comes to snark, this chant comes off as only sexist and nothing more. They're not calling Perry a "California Girl" as a term of endearment, let's be honest. They can chant up with the best European football ultras (and even they have their plentiful bad moments), but this one just fell flat. Even if it was meant as a light-hearted joke, it didn't come off that way.

      Next, we see Ken King and Brian Burke tell Flames fans to treat women with respect on the Red Mile after Flames playoff games, a place they don't even have control over. It's commendable that they have called out the people who are making life worse for all sensible female hockey fans in Calgary, but the fact that they have to do this at all is disturbing. The debauchery of the Red Mile in 2004 is 11 years in the past, humanity is supposed to have evolved. Drunken fans telling women to take their tops off is still horrible and unacceptable, no matter the where or the why.

    And as for the cherry on top of this crap filled sundae, Gary Bettman denied that the aforementioned Katy Perry chants had any ill intents whatsoever, and likened this chant to calling a goalie a sieve. But then, a female reporter (a hero in any regard), came in with the line of 2015 thus far (and likely won't be topped), "but sieves don't have feelings". The NHL, with Bettman as a proxy trumpets their diversity with one breath and then denies that there is any problem with an overtly sexist chant the next is... a bad look. Even though Bettman can't overtly admit there is a problem for PR reasons, he can at least do something. He did something about Sean Avery's nonsense, why can't he do something about Winnipeg's?

    Not only do these stories still exist, there are way too many of them. I can completely understand why some female hockey fans feel turned off by the NHL because of all of these incidents and the league proverbially stuffing their fingers in their ears and humming "The Hockey Song", because I would be too. As a white male myself that means absolutely nothing, but we're the people who can cause change (more powerful white men, to be specific. I have no power to speak of).

    The league, its teams, and powerful figures, almost all of whom are white men, need to take a stand and call out this nonsense. It might not end the stupidity, but at least it could momentarily make some headway. And that's all the sport needs right now, as it potentially stands to hemorrhage female fans for something entirely preventable.

    And let's not even get started on that CBS Detroit article...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Connor McLindros (One can hope)

     All of that tanking, all of the pain and anguish of a season deliberately thrown down the drain for... Jack Eichel. Not bad for the Buffalo Sabres, even though their savior has now been sent to hockey's Isle of Elba... the Edmonton Oilers. 4 years out of the past 6 they have had the #1 overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft.

    Just to make this absolute ridiculous even more, well, ridiculous, the Oilers owner Daryl Katz is suing Erie Otters owner Sherry Bassin for which Bassin threw the team into bankruptcy to avoid. His gleaming prize is now going to be the gleaming prize for a man that is suing him.

   Connor McDavid sure looks excited about his one way trip to Edmonton, Alberta:
   In theory, McDavid could do what Eric Lindros and Eli Manning did before him, which would be force a trade to somewhere more palatable (which would be anywhere but Edmonton, let's be fair), but since Connor is a "good ol' Canadian boy from Newmarket, Ontario" (said in Don Cherry character), he won't do that. Maybe this will force the Oilers to trade one of their other top draft picks that now will see reduced ice time because the new savior of hockey is going to be handed the keys to the Ferrari (a Mondial 8 because Oilers), or maybe the Oilers will draft a player in an area of need (which to be fair, is everywhere).

    But in every respect, this is... not good. Edmonton is the hockey equivalent of a black hole; good players go to die in Edmonton. He's also well out of any US media spotlight in Edmonton, not the case with Mario, Eric, or Sidney. Instead, he's in about the least palatable place on the North American continent (next to Senor Frog's).

   Winners? Oilers fans who still have the stomach to deal with the garbage they've been given for so long.

   Losers? Everyone else.

  Bill Daly's face said it all:

Photo courtesy twitter user IAmJasonMills

Thursday, April 16, 2015

#SlashGate

    Leaving the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens to their own devices is never a good idea, is it? Here is the major point of madness from last night's Game 1:

      So what are we to make of P.K Subban's slash on Mark Stone? Should Subban be suspended at all? Should he have been given a game misconduct? Was the rule that allowed the referees to toss him from the game a good rule? Should Subban have tipped the Chipotle counter lady on his way back to the dressing room? Let's try to wade through this molasses of a controversy, while gleaning something critical: Everything done here by Steve Kozari and Stephane Quintal was 100%... correct.

    Starting from the basics. This is a slash, no doubt. This is also pretty much a tomahawk chop to Mark Stone's wrists as well. The rulebook states pretty clearly that if a slash injures a player, it's an automatic 5 minute major and game misconduct. So the rule was interpreted correctly. Whether the rule is a bad one or not doesn't even really matter, since when a player skates off the ice as fast as Stone did, one would rightly assume he's injured. 90% of slashing minors in the NHL look fairly benign, with the worst outcome often times being a stick broken in two. It's also impossible to know whether Subban intended to injure Mark Stone, so that too is moot.

   Mark Stone was also not faking being injured. At all. We know from past experiences that hockey players a tough S.O.B's. Gregory Campbell is often lauded for the heroism of playing through a broken leg after he blocked a shot to finish his shift. Sure, there is now a diving hit list but in the playoffs, players will play through ridiculous injury even more than usual. One of the most fascinating stories when a team is eliminated is listening to the GM rattle off the injuries players were carrying and played through. It would take Mark Stone's wrists being held by a single strand of cartilage to keep him out of further action if he can conceivably play, even if he's not near 100%.

   Yes, the Sens want an investigation (a "forensic investigation" if you will) into the play, but Subban isn't going to be suspended even though Stone is now not 100%. The league not only hates suspending players during the playoffs, this situation doesn't even warrant a suspension. One of the biggest issues with the DoPS is suspending not only to the injury but the player injured (see here for evidence), so keeping their finger off the trigger for once is a welcome change. A less than 100% Mark Stone is obviously detrimental to the Senators, but Montreal lost their best skater and promptly conceded 2 PP goals during the major (they did get a shorty, but that's besides the point). As much as one would say the Sens will have a whale of a time beating the Habs without Mark Stone, the reverse for Montreal and P.K Subban is also true.

   As the brilliant Sean McIndoe (aka Down Goes Brown) points out, the fact that #slashgate happened in a Sens/Habs series is about the worst series this could happen in because of the many closets filled with tinfoil hats in both cities. Both sides are equally guilty of being equally ridiculous and over the top with their views. But after cutting through all of the rhetoric, angry tweets, and NCIS Montreal jokes, the simple fact is the NHL did everything exactly right.

   When the NHL gets decisions like this one wrong, they are absolutely hammered for it. When they get the decision right, they should be praised in equal measure.

    Time to warm up the praise chorus.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2015 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

Here are my full, official and final 2015 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions. Oh boy, can't wait to see these blow up in my face:

Eastern Conference:

First Round:   NYR over PIT in 5
                       WSH over NYI in 7
                       TB over DET in 5
                       OTT over MTL in 6

Second Round:  NYR over WSH in 6
                          TB over OTT in 5

Eastern Conference Finals: TB over NYR in 6


Western Conference:

First Round: CHI over NSH in 6
                     STL over MIN in 6
                     ANA over WPG in 7
                     VAN over CGY in 6

Second Round:  CHI over STL in 6
                           ANA over VAN in 6

Western Conference Finals:  CHI over ANA in 5

2015 Stanley Cup Finals:   TB over CHI in 6

Conn Smythe Trophy Winner: Tyler Johnson

Sorry to Blackhawks and Bolts fans in advance.