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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

2013-14 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

Since you've all just read my season predictions in review and have seen that the predictions game is not something I'm all that amazing at. However, that doesn't mean that I'm not going to try my hand at playoff predictions again. Here come my Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions with a little blurb about each series.

Eastern Conference:

Division Semis:

BOS over DET in 7: The Wings are a scrappy team that will give Boston problems, but the Bruins are the deepest team in the East for a reason. There might just be too much for Detroit to overcome here.

MTL over TB in 6: The Bolts are a younger team and many of their players haven't experienced the playoff wars yet. The Habs are more experienced, and have a higher likelihood of having the hot goalie, since the Bolts best candidate is injured. Habs/Bruins anyone?

PIT over CBJ in 5: 'Lumbus is everyone's second (or first) favorite team in these playoffs, and for good reason. But unfortunately, the Pens are still the favorites, and despite their past playoff transgressions, they have too much for Columbus, who lost 5 times to Pittsburgh this season.

NYR over PHI in 6: The Flyers turnaround this season has been remarkable, and in a weird twist, the Rangers have been a quieter team all around. They may be the second best team in the East, and with Henrik's ability to shut a series down, the Rangers should be able to take it.

Division Finals:

BOS over MTL in 6: Who doesn't love a series between Boston and Montreal? These teams not only hate each other, but they respect each other at the same time, and that should make for a great series. But, the Bruins have the ability to push the Habs around in a way I don't think can be reciprocated.

NYR over PIT in 6: The Penguins goaltending woes in the postseason are going to come back to bite them here. The Rangers will ride a wave of momentum from ousting Philly to then ousting the other team from the Keystone State.

Eastern Conference Final:

BOS over NYR in 5: Just as it went a year ago, and despite the coaching change for the Rangers, I just can't see them competing on the same level with Boston unless Henrik Lundqvist plays well out of his mind.

Western Conference:

Division Semis:

COL over MIN in 6: Will the young Avs mature in many of their first trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs? Will their abject terribleness in puck possession come back to bite them? Will Minnesota's goaltending carousel settle down enough for them to beat the Avs again in the postseason? Probably not.

CHI over STL in 6: The Blues are slumping, banged up, and in a funk. And now, they get to play the Blackhawks, who are getting healthy at just the right time. Bad combination. I don't think St. Louis will be able to score enough to keep up with the Hawks, who easily could out-muscle the Blues as well.

ANA over DAL in 5: Even if you are on the "Bruce Boudreau can't coach in the playoffs" bandwagon (which I am), last year they ran into the playoff-tested Detroit Red Wings. The Stars may be the classic "we're just happy to be here" team for this postseason, like the Islanders of last year or the Panthers of 2012. That doesn't bode well.

SJ over LA in 7: This will be the best series of all of the 8 first rounders. These teams are so evenly matched, and they know every detail about each other too. They can shut each other down, and beat each other up. Home ice might well decide things as it did a year ago. The Kings had it then, and the Sharks have it now. The Sharks may also have just enough secondary scoring to scrape by if their top line is shut down by Drew Doughty.

Division Finals:

CHI over COL in 5: This is where the Avs problems in playoff experience and puck possession (not to mention they play man-to-man defense) will probably bite them. Colorado may be able to skate with the Hawks, but they'll need Semyon Varlamov to steal more than 1 game in the series to have a chance. The Hawks have been there and done that, and the Avalanche just haven't yet.

SJ over ANA in 5: Again, here is where the Boudreau-playoff funk will come into play. The Sharks have something special about them this season, and the Ducks won't be able to compete on the same footing with the well-coached Sharks defense. I also trust Antti Niemi more than I do Jonas Hiller or John Gibson.

Western Conference Final:

SJ over CHI in 7: They're going to get over the hump! I don't know how, but I just have a feeling this year might be the year. Maybe it's Tomas Hertl, I don't know.

2014 Stanley Cup Final:

BOS over SJ in 6: It shouldn't feel like chalk even when you pick the President's Trophy winners to win the Cup, because you can find faults with the Bruins, but they are the most complete team right now. Only really Chicago and. St. Louis may give them real fits, and they're both long gone. The Bruins will hoist the Cup once again. Also... the Joe Thornton storylines... who doesn't want to see this play out?

Sorry to Bruins and Sharks fans in advance.

2013-14 NHL Season Predictions (In Review)

In an annual self-shaming exercise, it's time to review my preseason NHL predictions before the playoffs begin. Usually, this is the time when I publicly wipe egg off my face for my silly predictions that went wrong simply because I tried to be different, and in a few instances get to pump my own tires for looking like a genius. It will probably be a lot of the former, if you're curious.

Metro Division: My preseason order went (on the side is the correct order):

1) PIT   (Correct)
2) NYR (Correct)
3) PHI   (Correct)
4) WSH  (CBJ)
5) NYI    (WSH)
6) CBJ     (NJ)
7) CAR   (Correct)
8) NJ       (NYI)

Not too bad, aside from grossly overestimating the Islanders.

Atlantic Division:

1) BOS  (Correct)
2) DET   (TB)
3) OTT   (MTL)
4) MTL  (DET)
5) TB   (OTT)
6) FLA   (TOR)
7) TOR   (FLA)
8) BUF  (Correct)

Hooray, I bookended the division correctly! At least I didn't fall into the Leafs trap.

Central Division:

1) CHI    (COL)
2) STL    (Correct)
3) MIN    (CHI)
4) NSH    (MIN)
5) DAL   (Correct)
6) WPG  (Correct)
7) COL   (NSH)

I think everyone didn't expect the Avs to do what they ended up doing, so I don't feel too bad.

Pacific Division:

1) LA   (ANA)
2) SJ     (Correct)
3) PHX   (LA)
4) VAN   (PHX)
5) ANA   (VAN)
6) EDM   (CGY)
7) CGY   (EDM)

Oh well, this is where it all kinda went wrong. Never doubt a Bruce Boudreau team in the regular season is the lesson here.

Overall I correctly predicted 11 out of 16 playoff teams. Not too terrible, but I could have done better.

Awards Predictions:

President's Trophy: Pittsburgh (Boston won it, but they might have won it if it wasn't for the injuries).
Hart: Sidney Crosby (Hey, he will! Shocker.)
Art Ross: Alex Ovechkin (He won the Rocket Richard, but not the Ross. Thanks Sid)
Rocket Richard: Steven Stamkos (See above)
Vezina: Antti Niemi (Either Varlamov or Rask will win this)
Norris: Alex Pietrangelo (Lots of choices for this award, but I don't think Pietrangelo will get it)
Calder: Filip Forsberg (Facepalm. Nathan MacKinnon has this won, but I couldn't have been more wrong. New Rule: Whoever Jeff Marek picks for the Calder... DON'T DO IT).
Selke: Jonathan Toews (Nope. Patrice Bergeron has this one locked up)
Jack Adams: Dave Tippett (Again no... thanks Patrick Roy).

Overall... not too many hilariously bad picks aside from Forsberg for Calder, so really par for the course. Now as for my playoff picks... I can't promise anything.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Oh Canada... Please Root for Us!

As it seems increasingly likely that the Montreal Canadiens will be Canada's only entrant into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it has also become high time for some to talk about "Canada's Team", again. No, we're not saying the Habs are Canada's team, but one might say that they are this years "Canada's Team". The last bastion of Canadian hope to take the Stanley Cup back home for the first time in 21 years, the one that will carry the Maple Leaf flag on high and parade it around wherever they may march... That sounded a little too much like a parody for it to be real, but in some circles it is. And the hockey world goes through this song and dance every single playoffs. Two questions: Why, and can this be stopped immediately?

Maybe there's a mis-perception that all of Canada is unified behind whatever team is the last one standing in the playoff dogfight, and whether it be an American or Canadian perception is not really relevant. Maybe this does go along with the (false) sense that Canadian fans aren't as tribal as their counterparts down South. And in a shocking development... they're pretty tribal, and in some cases more tribal than American fans. It would pain the hearts of already pained Leafs fans to see the Habs hoist the Stanley Cup, as it would pain fans of the Sens, probably the Canucks (because no one in Canada aside from Vancouver likes them, apparently), and the prairie teams too... because their team didn't win. It's just as natural as a Rangers fan not wanting the Flyers to win the Stanley Cup because they're the "last Metropolitan team standing". So why do some assume that "Canada's team" is always the last one standing? Is it because the media microscope is focused on them the tightest? Is it really because Jim Hughson and company are calling their games for Hockey Night? Please.

Maybe the sentiment is louder this year because the rest of Canada's NHL outfits have either been shipwrecks, or dumpster fires, or dumpster fires of shipwrecks. That still doesn't change anything for Johnny Leafs fan in Etobicoke, who'd want nothing more than to see the Habs flame out of the postseason. It would be the same for any Habs fan rooting for the Leafs if they were last in, or a Flames fan rooting for the Oilers (it has happened in the past, snop snickering), etc, etc. Yes, people born in the time between the Habs hoisting the Cup in 1993 and now are just about to be of legal drinking age in the States (commence feeling old), but that doesn't mean that the Canadian exceptionalist has to root for the Habs because they're the last one with a Canadian postmark left in the postseason.

The Cup's coming "home" anyway, because the majority of every team's roster is Canadian to begin with!

But that doesn't answer the question of "why", even if it does get the fringes to silence themselves for 30 seconds. In fact, this rings a bit close to home for some of us.

Remember those "fans" around the BCS National Championship game every year who would root for the SEC flavor of the year because they too were a fan of a SEC team? And you really hated those people, and loved it when everyone made fun of them? Maybe this is in fact the Canadian version of that... we have to root for the last Canadian team at the ball because they are Canadian and I'm Canadian... makes sense, doesn't it? It's a twisted version of "I'm an Ole Miss fan who watched my team get pumped by Alabama this year, but I'm going to root for them because SEC!" with a "eh" thrown in. It somehow tickles a pleasure sensor in the brain that responds to subtle validation of their own teams worthlessness. "I don't feel as bad about my team being junk now since one of the teams in our conference that beat the stuffing out of us just won the National Championship! Go SEC!" and "I'm rooting for the Habs because they're Canadian and I'm Canadian and it makes me happy to see a Canadian team win the Cup even though (insert any of the other 6 here) is garbage. Go Canada!" sound eerily similar. But that's just an analogy, not an answer.

Truth is, there probably isn't an answer to why this silly ritual gets revived and recanted annually in the middle of April. And finding one is probably fruitless. If that's the case, then this is my personal plea for it to stop, from the fans to the hacks (sic media) who want to further it.

Bruce Arthur, who is a far better scribe than I'll ever be, said it best:

"We've already seen a hockey team this year that united the country with Price in goal. One was enough".

One certainly is enough.

Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 MLB Season Predictions

Even though it feels like I'm distant from baseball, the start of a new season is always a good sign. It means, for at least 6 days, that I can be optimistic about the New York Mets, and it means that it's time to dust off the glove and bat and go play outside (except if you're me, which means it's time to head to the medicine cabinet because allergy season is starting). Without further useless jokes, here are my sure-to-be-wrong 2014 MLB Season predictions.

AL East:

1) BOS
2) TB
3) NYY
4) BAL
5) TOR

AL Central:

1) DET
2) KC
3) CLE
4) CWS
5) MIN

AL West:

1) OAK
2) LAA
3) TEX
4) SEA
5) HOU

NL East:

1) WSH
2) ATL
3) NYM
4) PHI
5) MIA

NL Central:

1) STL
2) PIT
3) CIN
4) MIL
5) CHC

NL West:

1) LAD
2) SF
3) SD
4) ARZ
5) COL

Playoff Order:

AL: 1) BOS 2) DET 3) OAK 4) TB 5) NYY
NL: 1) LAD 2) STL 3) WSH 4) PIT 5) SF

Playoff Predictions:

ALDS:

4) TB over 1) BOS in 5
2) DET over 3) OAK in 4 (again)

ALCS:

2) DET over 4) TB in 6

NLDS:

1) LAD over 5) SF in 4
2) STL over 3) WSH in 4

NLCS:

2) STL over 1) LAD in 5 (again)

2014 World Series:

St Louis over Detroit in 5 (again, again)

Award Predictions:

AL:

MVP: Mike Trout
Cy Young: David Price
Rookie: Masahiro Tanaka
Manager: Ned Yost
HR King: Miguel Cabrera (and that contract)

NL:

MVP: Yadier Molina
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (again... notice a theme here?)
Rookie: Travis D'Arnaud (Give me a homer pick, please)
Manager: Matt Williams
HR King: The artist formerly known as Mike Stanton

Apologies to everyone here, although I should remind you I correctly predicted the World Series in 2012 preseason. It's something.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Scariest Part is the Silence

Tonight's events in Dallas brings you back to a side of sports we often don't think about; it's often there, but not on on the forefront of the mind: The human side. It's not very often that we genuinely watch a game in fear and shock, but tonight most people did. Rich Peverley is thankfully in stable condition, and we hope his condition improves soon. But watching both the feeds from Dallas and Columbus brought me back to a place that I never wanted to revisit, and one that still gives me chills when I remember this name.

When those of an older generation think of players collapsing on the field/court/ice, they may think of Hank Gathers, and rightfully so. That name and those moments on TV for many are still haunting to recount, and for obvious reasons. Many hockey fans also will remember the incident with Jiri Fischer of the Detroit Red Wings back in 2005, which is the closest parallel to the situation tonight in Dallas. Fischer ended up retiring after that incident for health purposes. But for me, my mind immediately goes back to one name: Fabrice Muamba.

During Tottenham and Bolton's FA Cup Quarterfinal in 2012, Muamba collapsed on the field and laid motionless on the field for 6 minutes. I was not watching the game since I was at an amusement park with friends and was tracking the game on twitter. Even though I was not watching the game, the tweets had a sense of shock, fear, and impending dread that no one should ever feel watching a sporting event, or ever in life. It was madness; people were concerned about his health because for awhile everyone thought he had died on the pitch. I had to ask my friends to sit down for awhile, because I was not in a state of mind to do anything other than sit quietly and think. I knew of what had happened to Hank Gathers, but obviously was not alive to see it happen. This was the moment for me when sports and the real world crossed in a way I hadn't seen before, or since, until tonight. And just hearing the name "Fabrice Muamba" gives me chills and has me ponder life for a moment.

Tonight was different, yet the same. On twitter you could see and feel the fear, dread, and angst about what was going on. Everyone was genuinely frightened. And when you would turn to the local feeds of the Stars or Jackets, that didn't help matters. The Stars feed was dead silent, with only interspersed shots of shocked fans to break the monotony of hearing nothing. The looks on the fans faces were genuinely frightening, and gave me the flashbacks to the Muamba incident that I had hoped I'd never have again. I had to change over to the Columbus feed because the cascading fear of silence was making me sick. The Jackets feed wasn't silent; but the same sense of fear came across in just the genuine shock you could tell the announcers had. But everyone went about their professional duty to find out about the condition of Peverley, and the game in the way that is hoped for, but not expected in times like these. Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge in Columbus, and Ralph Strangis and Daryl Reaugh in Dallas all did exceptional jobs trying to present everything going on without showing the smallest signs of fear that everyone else had, and they should all be commended greatly for what they were able to do.

Both teams have a game tomorrow night, but that feels insignificant now. The human side of sports is often not thought of unless a case like the Peverley or Muamba one arises, and tonight was no exception. One can't imagine what the players on the ice were thinking, whether they were current or past teammates or just comrades who all play the game they love at the highest level. Like I was with the Muamba incident, everyone who was watching and tracking the game tonight will be scarred in some way, but we will be comforted in knowing that Peverley is in good health and good spirits (including his crack about wanting to play again... save your "hockey players are tough" commentaries for later, please).

When sports and real life cross, it's never usually in times of triumph, and tonight was no different. Whether it was me reading and watching in fear because of past memories, or whether it was a fan at the game tonight watching in shock as the ice emptied and players screamed for help, we were all touched tonight by the side of sports we don't see. Hockey fans as a collective came together tonight to hope/pray/remember/honor, just as most English football fans did 2 years ago on that fateful Saturday, and that should help the healing process. There are games tomorrow night, and ones going on as I type this, but we'll be all be reminded of what happened tonight, since everyone of us won't and can't forget.

Maybe the healing process for me starts when I type out the last letter. Words are often the first means of acceptance.

Friday, March 7, 2014

2014 MLS Season Predictions

Yes, I am going to make MLS season predictions, because I like the league and this is my blog and I can do whatever I want. It's not going to be terribly in depth, but it will have all the necessities.

Eastern Conference Predicted Order:
1. SKC
2. NYRB
3. TOR
4. PHI
5. HOU
6. NE
7. CLB
8. MTL
9. DC
10. CHI

Western Conference Predicted Order:
1. POR
2. LA
3. SEA
4. RSL
5. FCD
6. VAN
7. SJ
8. COL
9. CHV

Award Predictions:

Rookie of the Year: Harrison Shipp (Chicago)
Newcomer of the Year: Gaston Fernandez (Portland)
Coach of the Year: Oscar Pareja (FC Dallas)
Goalkeeper of the Year: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defender of the Year: Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
Golden Boot: Jermain Defoe (Toronto FC)
MVP: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy)
Supporters Shield: Sporting Kansas City
MLS Cup Champions: Portland Timbers

Not in depth by any means, but here are more predictions that are sure to be wrong come November.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The NHL and the Olympics

I'm still reeling. I should be, since I just watched both the US men's and women's hockey teams lose to Canada in agonizing and heartbreaking fashion respectively. But that doesn't mean the hockey at the Sochi games wasn't amazing in spots. Watching both US/Canada women's games sparked a new interest in women's hockey for me (mainly for the anti-Canada stuff by now), and the US/Russia pool play game was probably the best game of hockey I've seen in 4 years. But the Olympic magic will soon fade, and everyone will be left to talk about the role of the NHL with the Olympics. It's complicated... far too complicated, even though it seems a cut and dry issue. Everyone in the world sans the 30 men signing NHL paychecks away want the NHL at the Olympic Winter Games. But it's never that simple, is it?

Ed Snider and Garth Snow have both been outspoken about their hatred of the Olympic break. If Snider cracked the door open, then Snow busted it down. On the Olympic break, Snider said "There's no benefit to it whatsoever. If anything, I only see negatives. The players want to play and the players' association has a lot to say about it. As an owner, I think it's ridiculous." Aside from reminding Snider that the Flyers made the Stanley Cup Final the last time NHL players went to the Olympics, he's only stopped short of calling Don Fehr a bad influence. And he's right. Even if his view is completely selfish, he's right. What good do the 30 owners get by sending their highly paid assets over to someone else with a high risk of injury and no way of covering the losses if they do get hurt? And the NHL makes, appreciably, nothing from sending their players over and stopping their season for 3 weeks, aside from maybe a little buzz and a few extra shirsey sales. While Snider might have been the only owner with the stones to talk, I'd bet the conversation in the 29 other boardrooms echoes similar thoughts.

After watching his prized asset John Tavares get injured in Sochi and be lost for the rest of the season, Garth Snow was understandably peeved. It's a "joke" he said that the IIHF can use NHL players and not reimburse their teams if/when they get hurt, but he was just getting started. He said it's the biggest reason why the NHL shouldn't be in the games, and it should be amateurs. He's right too. And please, silence your inevitable "the Isles weren't making the playoffs anyway" trumpets. Garth Snow might have been the only one to say anything, but do you think Ken Holland is happy that Henrik Zetterberg is out for the rest of the regular season because of an Olympic injury? Or Dale Tallon is any less peeved that Alex Barkov and Tomas Kopecky both got hurt during the games despite the fact that his team is crap? It's almost an all-risk, no reward situation for owners and GM's when the Olympics come around, to say nothing of breaking up the flow of a NHL regular season. All of them are right as well. Obviously though, this debate isn't one-sided.

The highest pinnacle for some players (mainly European) is to win Olympic Gold for their country. While this thought may seem foreign to American and Canadian fans, all of the talk of Russian players jumping ship if the NHL didn't go to Sochi should have at least brought that point home. Even then, ask any one of the players for the US or Canada and they would have said 100% that they'd go to every Olympics that they were called up for. Winning Olympic Gold might not be the same as hoisting the Stanley Cup for Patrick Marleau or David Backes, but they're certainly proud to be there at any rate. As they should be. And they're right too.

And what of the IOC and IIHF? This is the biggest possible stage for hockey to be on, and they make a killing off of it. Going back to amateurs and a few European professionals only harms their bottom lines, also saying nothing about NBC and whoever holds the Canadian Olympic rights from 2018 onward. Needn't we forget either, that hockey is attracting more buzz in the States now than the NHL regular season ever would, and only the Olympics really provides that stage aside from the Stanley Cup Final, and one could argue that's a stretch too. And everyone above is also right.

So if everyone's right (and they are), where does that leave us?

The IOC and IIHF need the NHL since the Men's Hockey tournament is the biggest event at the Winter Olympics and garners the most buzz. The NHL one could say needs the IOC and the IIHF to get more people watching their league, especially in the States, where the game can only grow. The NHL players will always want to go to the Olympics since not only is the door open, but there is pride in representing your country that will always be higher than representing a corporate logo on your sweater. But the NHL takes on all the risk and nearly none of the reward by doing what to many is a fait accompli. Now what?

How about a World Cup of Hockey? In this case, the NHL and NHLPA keep all the revenues, but will it ever be as a big as an Olympic tournament is? And will the players line up to play in it like they would for the Olympics? Probably not.

Getting the IOC to split some revenues from the tournament? God no. It was amazing that the NHL and IIHF could even agree on the protocol for sending the players to Russia in one piece, let alone getting all of those men in a room again to agree on a revenue split.

Cherry pick Olympics to go to? The IOC (wisely) wouldn't allow it, and it would set a bad precedent as some players would go regardless of whether the NHL releases their players to do so. Yes Pyeongchang is not a market the NHL is even remotely interested in, but the first Olympic tournament with NHL'ers in it was in Nagano. Close enough.

Abandon the Olympics altogether? They can't do that on numerous levels.

So this is an entirely complex and convoluted issue that is nowhere near an end, or even an end-game. There will be an intense labor battle with blood spilled and many knocked over in its wake.

What do I want to happen? The NHL in every Olympics. What do I think should happen? Have both a World Cup of Hockey and have the players go to the Olympics as well. What do I think will happen? A glorified world-junior tournament in South Korea. Wish I could be more optimistic, but I sat through 2 life-sucking lockouts with this league.

It stinks when everyone is right, and it stinks even more that everyone who is right has the bank account size to match their egos.