Monthly Archives: January 2011

A Banged-Up NHL Midseason Review

Injuries are ravaging the NHL as teams are playing without their best players.

We’re in the NHL’s second half; you know what that means… a New York Rangers second half slide… I mean the NHL Midseason awards.

 

Look I shouldn’t be shocked that the Rangers are having another January swoon. The Rangers are like Tom Coughlin’s stepchild but only worse. They do this every season, start fast, struggle in November, get hot in December and then go on a two-month bender of not scoring goals, losing one goal games and cause Henrik Lundquist to wonder about the benefits of committing Hara Kiri.

 

I should be used to it by now, but I’m a New Yorker, I’m crazy. I want the Rangers to play consistent hockey and I’ve wanted it for years. However, you see the beginning to this piece. The difference in this year’s team is that I can see the drought coming but not from inconsistency. This time it’s injuries. Right now the Rangers are missing 6 starting forwards including leading goal scorer Brandon Dubinsky. Due to the injuries the slide began last week as the Rangers lost three out of four games and dropped to seventh in the Eastern Conference.

 

With the Rangers struggling to score goals, losing our number one guy isn’t exactly the best news in the world right now.

 

If think its bad for us how do you think the Penguins are feeling? Sidney Crosby took a head shots from David Steckel in the Winter Classic and then from Victor Hedman several days later and has been out since. Before his injury the Pens were the best team in hockey and Crosby was Megan Fox in a thong hot since then they’ve been 3-3 and fell from 1st to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

 

Same for the Detroit Red Wings; name a Wing and he’s banged up, Tomas Holmstrom, Dan Cleary, Chris Osgood, Jimmy Howard (yes, both goalies) and Pavel Datsyuk all missed their recent loss to the aforementioned Pens and 3 of their last four.

 

The Colorado Avalanche lost leading scorer at the time Chris Stewart 18 games ago and slipped, The Blackhawks lost Jonathan Toews for three weeks and have had a devil of a time staying in the playoff race, The struggling Kings just lost Wayne Simmonds and have been banged up all year, Montreal… IT AINT SAFE PLAYIN HOCKEY I TELLS YA!!!

 

Fact is if you can stay healthy then you’re hard to beat. Philadelphia, Vancouver and Tampa Bay are all examples that if you stay healthy you stay on top. Right now it’s a toss up between the Canucks and the Flyers for the title of best team in the league. I got a front row look of each team last week as each of them faced the Rangers and I really like the Flyers.

 

Granted there are goaltending issues (It’s Philly there’s always goaltending issues) but the team they have is loaded with guys all playing their best hockey. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and company are leading a balanced attack that could get better when Chris Pronger returns. They’re proving that last season’s cup run was no joke and that getting back there and winning is all that’s on their mind.

 

I do not doubt the Canucks at all though, not with Daniel and Henrik Sedin playing at a high level and Ryan Kesler scoring goals like crazy. The Sedins are in the top five in scoring and Kesler is number five in the leagues with 25 goals. What does worry me about them is Roberto Luongo tends to give up a few softies in goal. Luongo was the reason that the Canucks lost their Western Semifinals series versus the Blackhawks last year in one of his worst stretches ever.  So to say everyone is a little worried about him possibly sliding back into that form is like saying the Trail Blazers are a little worried bout their entire lineup being injured (Sorry Marcus Camby).

Why is Vancouver number one in the league right now? Ask these guys.

Then there’s Tampa freaking Bay in third place in East (thank you Washington slump in late December.). They couldn’t stop a goal from going in until they acquired 41 year-old Dwayne Roloson, and outside of Ryan Malone, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos they have gotten NOTHING from anyone. However, the guys have all been healthy outside of Vinny Lecavalier (not that it matters because he’s been dead weight.), and Simon Gagne (which doesn’t matter because no one expected him to play more than 50 games anyway.) and they have played consistent hockey and have played within their skill set. No one is being asked to go out of his way to do things that they can’t do and it’s worked.

 

Stamkos has returned to form after a quick start and slow stretch in December and has returned to the MVP that I thought was all but guaranteed in November. If the Lightning are going to be active in the trade market then he should be getting some help to move him closer to the Hart trophy and the Lightning to the playoffs.

 

Speaking of awards at the mid-way point who has the upper hand in the most of the major honors in the league? Well…

 

Hart Trophy- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Now you know I love Stamkos, and I have been watching the Sedin twins, but none of them had a 25 game point scoring streak and had 49 points during the streak. Without Crosby the Pens are a totally different team and it shows. If they want to win it all they need Sid the Kid at 100% and nothing less.

 

My Bad: Stamkos, both Sedins and St. Louis

 

Norris Trophy- Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers

Ok, so Lidstrom might win the thing, but how about the job big buff has done in going back to his natural position in Atlanta? He’s got 41 points, which is second amongst defensemen, and he’s brought the Thrashers alive with his toughness and energy. I actually want to watch a Thrashers game now just because of him (well him and Evander Kane, just saying.).

 

My Bad: Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara and Kris Letang

 

Vezina Trophy- Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

So much for Tuukka Rask taking his job. That’s not happening with Thomas leading the league in GAA and save percentage and is fourth in wins. Because of him the B’s are sitting pretty in second place in the East.

 

My Bad: Henrik Lundquist, Jonas Hiller and Carey Price

Tim Thomas is zeroing in on his second Vezina with the Bruins.

Calder Trophy- Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes

So right at the end of October the Hurricanes come to the Garden and from what I remember from last year I’m thinking this is an easy win. Then comes this Jeff Skinner kid with a three-point game that totally kills us and leaves me stunned. I’m thinking that was a fluke… yeah, um, no.

 

He leads all rookies in points, second in goals to San Jose’s Logan Couture and looks like a great number two to Eric Staal. I guess I was looking at a sign of things to come.

 

(Side note: I really like this year’s class of rookie forwards. There’s Skinner, Derek Stepan, Couture, Taylor Hall and Brian Bickell and they all look good. For years the young defensemen have bean all of the rage in the league and maybe starting with this class the scorers might catch up with them soon.)

 

My Bad: Stepan, Couture and Hall.

 

Jack Adams Trophy- Guy Boucher

Yeah Peter Laviolette has the Flyers in first, Mike Babcock has the Red Wings playing great, but did you think the Lightning would be in the top 3 in the NHL ahead of the Pens, Caps and Habs this year? Yep, exactly.

 

My Bad: Babcock, Laviolette, and Marc Crawford

 

Presidents Trophy- Philadelphia Flyers

Scary good. They’re clicking on all cylinders with Pronger coming back soon. This may change if the Pens get Crosby back but for right now no one has an inside track on these guys.

 

However, that’s the story of this season so far. Injuries are killing lots of teams right now from my Rangers to the Habs, Pens and Blackhawks. As the races tighten up and the season winds down hopefully guys like Toews, Crosby and Datsyuk get back and return to form quick so these games continue to have great meaning. Well, except for the Rangers. I already know what they’re going to do so I’ll just sit back and not worry about it and watch them battle for the 8th seed. I mean I’m used to it by now anyway.

 


The Jets Can Keep On Talking

The Jets talked all week. Sunday they proved it wasn't just all talk.

Talk is cheap… unless you can actually back it up. To say that The Jets backed it up would be selling them short. They put their collective foot in the New England Patriots… um… you know.

 

The Jets 28-21 win wasn’t just a statement game that may turn the tide in the AFC East over the next year; it may have knocked the swagger out of the Patriots for some time to come.

 

Say what you will about Rex Ryan, he’s loud, begs for attention and sometimes crosses the line with his tactics. However, he’s not the type of guy that bails out on a plan when it’s not working well.

 

After the 45-3 beat down in Foxboro two months ago Ryan could’ve, and should’ve, kept his yap shut and stopped throwing rocks at everyone’s throne. Yet here was Ryan talking about how “personal” it was between him and Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick. Encouraging Antonio Cromartie to draw the ire of Tom Brady by calling him an @$$#ole and saying “F*** Tom Brady”. He even continued his talk about how the Jets are still Super Bowl contenders. Meanwhile everyone from sports radio broadcasters to anchors called him crazy. Now what do we call him?

 

Ryan, dare I say it, outcoached “The Hoodie” and turned the tide in the rematch of the Monday Night Massacre.

 

The Jets were able to do the one main thing it takes to win a football game; they controlled the line of scrimmage. On offense the Jets ran the ball much better than the Pats and the offensive line kept Mark Sanchez off of his rear end all day long as the Pats couldn’t produce any pressure and Sanchez was able to step into his throws. On defense Shaun Ellis and company sacked Tom Brady five times and the Pats never got into any rhythm until late in the game when the Jets were in control. Ryan rarely called blitzes instead allowing his down linemen to get pressure on Brady and it worked perfectly.

 

Brady couldn’t make the proper adjustments and it showed, as he couldn’t get the ball downfield at all as Jets defenders blanketed his receivers. The Pats were given a taste of their own medicine as the Jets played a more physical brand of football and left the Patriots shaking their heads.

 

The MVP though was Sanchez. The much-maligned QB shook off a shaky performance against the Indianapolis Colts and looked like the highly touted kid from USC that was so hyped upon his NFL arrival.

 

Sanchez threw three scores including two beauties to Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. He sailed a few balls but for the most part he was on point and did the things that the Jets offense needed to win the game.  Rex Ryan deserves credit for that as well by simplifying the offense, which allowed Sanchez to make the proper plays.

Mark Sanchez is now 4-1 in the playoffs, all on the road.

 

As much as critics like to get on Sanchez for his spotty accuracy in key moments, the guy is 4-1 in the playoffs, all on the road and in tough places to play like Indy, New England and San Diego. That’s impressive no matter who you are and he deserves a lot of credit for guiding the Jets to those victories.

 

As for the Patriots the question is now what? The Pats were a juggernaut rolling into this week, bringing up memories of their near perfect season during that stretch. Yet they never resembled that team today as the Jets beat them at every angle and though they outgained them it wasn’t indicative of how the game was played.

 

Belichick’s defense needs to improve in two ways, pass coverage and pass rush. They couldn’t touch Sanchez because they don’t have the guys to get it done besides Vince Wilfork and he’s more of a run stopper. The secondary need more depth because besides Brandon Merriweather and Devin McCourtey there’s not much there as the Jets proved.

 

There’s also the fact that maybe no one truly is afraid of the Patriots. Think about the last two times the Pats got called out in the media. The first was Super Bowl 42 when Plaxico Burress guaranteed a victory and this past week when every Jet except Ken O’Brien called them out. What happened? They got beat up.

 

The luster from those three championships has all but faded. They’re no longer the front-runners in the NFL and it’s starting to show. When someone trash talks you all week then comes into your house and beats you down there is a problem. Maybe the Belichick way isn’t working anymore, maybe they need a new approach. Whatever it is they need to figure it out quick because they’re losing ground by the minute.

 

Maybe they should try the Rex Ryan way because it looks like it works. Will things be personal when the Jets go to Pittsburgh next week (maybe for Holmes.)? Will Darrelle Revis call out Ben Roethlisberger? If they do, we shouldn’t stress about it, that’s who the Jets are. The Jets talk win, lose or draw. After today in Foxboro we also know they can back it up in impressive fashion.

 

Wes Welker tried the passive-aggressive Ryan way this week with his foot comments. Maybe Welker can help remove the Jets foot from the Pats backend. Learn from Ryan Wes, if you’re going to talk, make sure we can hear you. Also make sure you can back it up, that’s the Rex Ryan way.

 


Ravens Let It Slip Away

Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense are at fault for losing this game.

The Ravens had them. They were up 21-7 in the third quarter with the ball. Terrell Suggs owned the Pittsburgh offensive line; the Ravens defense was causing turnovers and controlling the line of scrimmage. Momentum was on their side… and they let it all slip away.

 

After Ray Rice fumbled for the first time in over 400 touches, Baltimore melted down and lost 31-24 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that lived up to the hype.

 

It was a 12 round match that featured very few haymakers but several knockdowns. The Steelers delivered the hardest blows when it counted.

 

The first half belonged to the Ravens as they forced two turnovers, which led to 14 points and seemed to stagger the Steelers. Suggs was unstoppable. He swarmed Ben Roethlisberger all afternoon for three sacks and it should’ve been five if not for Ben’s athletic ability, which helps him avoid sacks. At the half and early into the third quarter it looked as if Baltimore could all but punch their ticket to New England next week… then the fumble happened.

 

Ray Rice never fumbles, never, 404 touches since his last one to be exact. However on a check down from Joe Flacco (one of the many from him today) Rice didn’t protect the ball and it slipped out of his hands and into the Pittsburgh defense’s. A few plays later Ben found Heath Miller for a 9 yard score and the Steelers were back in business.

 

On the next possession Flacco threw a terrible pass in the direction of Todd Heap, who was double covered, and it landed right in the hands of Ryan Clark for another turnover and the Raven meltdown continued once the Steelers turned it into more points and tied the game at 21.

 

Then after they got the ball back Flacco mishandled a snap and, yep another turnover that led to more points. The Steelers were now up 24-21 and the Ravens were in a full freefall.

 

(Side note: Joe Flacco is a bum. I understand the Steelers defense is tough, but man did he look scared of, well, everything. He checked down to Ray Rice more than Trent Edwards, he was afraid to throw the ball downfield more than six yards and when he did he routinely under and overthrew his receivers. His performance was dreadful. He couldn’t move the ball unless he had a short field and looked shaky from start to finish.

Terrell Suggs dominated the game early, but Ben Roethlisberger got the last laugh.

 

Is it a problem in the future? What do you think? I wouldn’t trust this guy making me a turkey sandwich let alone try to lead my team to a Super Bowl. He’s got great receivers and one of the game’s best backs and cant seem to get the offense to move. The Ravens should take a look at bringing in a solid back-up QB just in case.)

 

So here we are in the fourth quarter and the game has totally changed. Now James Harrison is the one bringing the heat and the Steelers were pushing around the Ravens offensive line. The Ravens offense was obscenely inept. They couldn’t gain ground at all thanks to the Steelers d-line and Flacco’s shaky hand. If not for the Ravens defense the Steelers might have completely destroyed the Ravens.

 

Thanks to that defense the Ravens had one last shot to take control of the game thanks to a great stand with less than 5 minutes left and a great punt return, which was a touchdown but was called back thanks to a hold. Yet once again the Ravens offense failed to produce. They had scored touchdowns when working with a short field in the first half, but on this possession they were denied and held to a field goal.

 

So what happens next? Let’s see; fourth quarter, game on the line, Roethlisberger behind center… yeah you know. Roethlisberger did what neither offense could do in the first 56 minutes of the game, he moved the ball efficiently down the field thanks to a big pass play to Emmanuel Sanders and the Steelers scored another touchdown to take a 31-24 lead.

 

Could the Ravens answer? Of course not. Flacco was sacked, overthrew Anquan Boldin and on their last play actually threw a dart to T.J. Houshmanzadeh, which he let slip through his hands ending their season. Very fitting for the game that they played in the second half.

 

As much as the Steelers won the game, the Ravens lost it. Their meltdown was all mental mistakes. Every turnover could’ve been avoided by the offense and each turnover killed a defense that despite allowing 31 points was absolutely dominate.

 

This loss is squarely on the offense. The drop, the turnovers that put the defense in bad spots and the inability to control the line all led to the Ravens demise (hasn’t that been the case since the team’s inception?).

 

So as the Steelers move on and somehow try to heal up from this epically physical game, the Ravens head back to Charm City hanging their heads. They know this game was there’s and it was well in their grasp. However, like the Houshmenzadeh dropped pass they let it slip away and cant blame anyone but themselves.

 


NBA Melo-Drama

Melo is still a Nugget, but for how long?

The Denver Nuggets have a problem; its name is Carmelo Anthony. Carmelo Anthony has a problem, its called doing what he feels is right for himself and his playing career.

 

Both sides have a solution to their problem; unfortunately no one wants to come to a common ground.

 

Carmelo wants out of Denver and into New York. Denver knows they will lose him and want to get something for him instead of letting him walk free of charge in July 2011. Yes I know I what you’re thinking, this is definitely a pain in the neck. You see both sides have a point. Both sides are trying to do what’s best for them.

 

Carmelo Anthony has been very upfront about his future and knows what he wants and where he wants to go. Unlike LeBron James and the silly games that he played on the Cleveland Cavaliers, Carmelo has let it be known that he will not sign with the Nuggets and intends to take his talents to the Big Apple. Denver knowing this has still given Carmelo an option for extending his deal for three years and 65 million dollars, which Melo has denied over and over.

 

Is he being unreasonable? No. He’s not trashing the team in the media, he’s not being surly to my knowledge, and his main objective in his own words is doing what’s best for him. Maybe he sees the future around him in Denver and he’s not a fan of it.

 

Maybe he sees J.R. Smith still chucking up bad three’s, the fading skills of Chauncey Billups and a team that besides him has no real direction on where they want to go (want proof? Look at the Al Harrington deal.). Maybe it isn’t because his wife LaLa Vazquez wants to be closer to New York City, which is her home (no that definitely has a part in it, ask Janet Jones Gretzky). Maybe Carmelo really understands what his future holds and doesn’t like what it looks like in Denver.

Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri has to do what's right for the Nuggets.

 

Think about a this for a minute; yes if he turns down a 3 year/ 65 million dollar deal he risks losing the bigger annual salary when the new CBA is in place, but has that really mattered in his decision making? Everything is about the money when it boils down to it no matter what anyone says; yet Melo knows this and its not factoring into his decision. If it did then he would’ve signed that extension in Denver or in New Jersey where the biggest trade talks are coming from.

 

He looks at New Jersey and is thinking the same thing about them that he thinks about Denver. Do I really want to play with 33 year-old Rip Hamilton, 34 year-old Chauncey Billups, no point guard and Brook Lopez who has taken a step back this year? Hell, no!

 

That’s why he’s being so stubborn. The money isn’t the big deal for him, it’s the situation that matters and if it isn’t the right one then he wont do it.

 

Unfortunately for him and the Nuggets it’s costing him fan support in Denver. Melo has been booed in the Nuggets last two home games including the 130-102 beat down of Miami last night. Should the fans be upset? Yes, they should. How would you feel if the guy that brought your franchise the most success its ever seen all of a sudden wants to leave town? It’s a double-edged sword for Melo; you cant everything your way no matter how hard you try. In the end you do have to do what’s right for you, but don’t expect everyone to be happy about it and understand.

 

So what should the Nuggets do with the hard-standing all-star? Trade him to the Knicks like he wants? To the Nets who give you the best offer? Or take it as a loss and do what you can with him right now?

 

I don’t get the Nuggets claims that the Knicks have nothing that they want. I mean have you seen Landry Fields ballin’ lately or maybe Danilo Galinari when he’s healthy? With that said, the Nuggets should NOT give in to Melo’s wants and should do what’s best for them as Melo is doing for him. It’s also about perception. The last thing that NBA GM’s wants to see is another team giving in to a player’s demands. They’d rather go all Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas and treat those kinds of players like Morrie.

 

(Side note: if I’m the Knicks, there is no way in hell I trade for Carmelo right now. As a fan I want him on the Knicks, but looking at the team why would you mess this chemistry up right now? Would you really want to trade either Galinari or Anthony Randolph and throw in Fields? Hell no! Wait until the off-season. Melo isn’t signing with the Nets if he’s smart and you’ll get him for free. Plus you save those assets for a possible trade with the Hornets for Chris Paul next year, it makes perfect sense not to outbid the Nets for Carmelo or try and sell the Nuggets on taking O.J. Mayo from Memphis. Practice patience and what a year is what they should do, but this is New York… patience? Please.)

 

The Nuggets should try and get the Nets deal done as their best option. Derrick Favors fits in perfectly with their offensive scheme and Devin Harris would hold down the point guard slot until Ty Lawson takes over. What they should not do is go for the Knicks O.J. Mayo deal. The last thing the Nuggets need is another shot-chucking head case running around.

If I'm the Knicks I would wait for Melo rather than give up Landry Fields for him.

 

However, the best option might come from the Consequence mixtape Take em to the Cleaners… take it as a loss.

 

If Carmelo ain’t signing then he ain’t signing. If the Knicks deal isn’t there then do it. You might as well take advantage of a top-heavy Western Conference and try to get a 4 or 5 seed and see how far you can go. People may too much of trying to get something for someone before they leave, will Harris, Favors or that draft pick make a difference for your team this year or next? It probably won’t. So you might as well keep what you got and see where it takes you. It’s not like if Carmelo leaves then the Nuggets turn into the Cavaliers. They’re still a competitive team with or without Carmelo Anthony, just not the contenders that they have been.

 

It’ll be interesting to see how this scenario plays out. We all know Carmelo isn’t staying, where is he going? Will he buckle and go to the Nets? Will he stay in Denver and wait to go to New York next year? Or will he be in N.Y. before the deadline? Hopefully both sides can come together with a solution and do what’s best for both sides.

 


Fun Things Going On In The NHL Thanks To Gary Bettman And Company

The Winter Classic has spawned many new ideas to give the NHL a P.R. boost.

I hate Gary Bettman, I really really really hate him.

He almost ruined my favorite sport next to football with a strike that damn near killed the game of hockey. He’s taken away teams from great hockey cities in Canada and placed them in the hockey hotbeds of Phoenix, Miami, Nashville and Atlanta. For a long time he refused to promote his best players on the ice leaving the average fan with no sense of whom the heck were the best players in the game.

(Seriously he damaged the sport for the longest time. There was a point in the late 90’s where Martin Brodeur, Keith Tkachuk, Teemu Selanne, Mike Modano and Paul Kariya were studs and you wouldn’t have known it because Bettman refused to put any backing behind promoting the players. No one knew about Joe Thornton, Vinny LeCavalier or Jarome Iginla and he didn’t care. I don’t care if your league is indoor lacrosse, you have to have your players featured and Bettman never did it. As you can tell I still haven’t gotten over that.)

There have been so many things that I can run Bettman into the ground for from the strike, the handling of the Coyotes, to everyone one of these gargantuan and ridiculous long-term deals that it makes my head spin.

This is why it’s so hard for me to give the man props for the pop culture revolution that is going on in the NHL and is making the game a better sell for people outside of the die-hard fan.

Since the NHL came from that crippling strike Bettman and his cronies at the NHL offices in New York and Toronto have gone out of their way to make the game more accessible and to bring the game back into mainstream America. At first the ideas were less than impressive (you remember that NBC experiment where they highlighted the best players on each team and let you know when they were on the ice right? FAIL!), however in the last three years the NHL has become imaginative in promoting the game and it has seen great returns from these experiments.

Of course it starts with the Winter Classic. An idea that was spawned thanks to an outdoor game between two Canadian teams (Montreal and

The new All-Star format makes game more intriguing for fans and players like Dustin Byfuglien

Edmonton), which was meant to return the game to its roots of being outdoor on a pond having fun with your buddies.

It’s done that and much more.

The original Classic featuring Pittsburgh and Buffalo was so successful that now the Classic is the main event of New Year’s Day. Thanks to the BCS and its long drawn out games, the NHL has swooped in and made the day all its own, similar to the NBA and Christmas. I mean let’s be real, what was more entertaining this year the Caps-Pens or any of the SEC-Big Ten beat-downs? Exactly.

The success of the game made the NBA try an outdoor pre-season game a while ago but with horrible results. Success breeds envy, never thought Bettman had that in him.

Fast-forward to this year and look at that the new format for the NHL All-Star game. Instead of the tired East vs. West all-stars the league decided to make a pool of the best players (as it should be) and have two captains pick their teams. Its playground hockey in a sense and brings more fun into the game. How cool would it be to see Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane on the same line or Anze Kopitar with Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Sedin? The creativity of the best players in both conferences combined is cool to just think about.

The initial reaction from journalists was yeah it is cool, but it would’ve been cooler if the NBA thought of it first. It is a great point, I mean Kobe, LeBron and Blake Griffin on the same team, wow. However the fact that the NHL had the guts to try and experiment with such a cool concept is shocking. They were able to figure out that All-Star games were becoming a bore and pumped new life into it with a simple concept that makes it more interesting and maybe more fun.

(Side note: all all-star games are boring. The NHL had a great idea ten years ago with the North America vs. The World concept which should have been copied by everyone but wasn’t. I mean there are only so many times that I can watch Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash play together before I decide that I’d rather pick up a shift at work than watch the game. Just saying.)

Now the NHL is taking another marketing risk with its Guardian Project, which is the brainchild of Marvel Comic legend Stan Lee. It’s a concept that takes all 30 NHL teams and gives each of them a superhero based on the team name and the personality of the team and its city. It’s been met with some criticism by fans and critics alike but I can’t wait to see what The Ranger looks like.

The Flyers Guardian looks cool, I bet the Rangers Guardian would own him though.

It’s inventive and exciting and draws more attention to the league. While I think it might be a little much for the NHL and it might not make much sense… I can’t wait to see what the Ranger looks like.

Has all of this helped the NHL out? Absolutely. The die-hard fans have returned and the casual fan has gained interest in the league. That combined with the fact that the Original Six have returned to form (yes, Toronto is coming back.) and that ridiculous gold medal game from the Olympics last year has given the NHL a huge lift in ratings and we actually know who the best players in the game are.

People know who Patrick Kane, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty, Ovechkin, Crosby and others are now. Led by Crosby and Ovechkin in America and the Sedin twins in Canada, the league’s best are on display on and off the ice and it’s helping the sport came back into national relevance.

However there is one place where the NHL has to get more exposure, GET THE GAME BACK ON ESPN!!!

While Versus has become a very good hockey network it still doesn’t have the national audience that ESPN has and that the league benefitted from in the 90’s and early 2000’s. I don’t mind it if the games stayed on Versus Mondays and Tuesdays, but in order for the league to get back to where it was in the mid-90’s during the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry days the game needs a larger audience and ESPN is perfect for that.

Until then what Bettman and the league has done to promote the game isn’t a bad starting or pushing point. The All-Star game is in late January, the playoffs are around the corner and excitement is building as the Western conference race is tighter than a can of sardines and the best in the East are on collision courses. It’s a fun time to be and NHL fan, now let’s see if Bettman and company can continue the good work and keep it going.

I’m not ready to forgive him for all of the bad things he did to the league but getting a glimpse of The Ranger will be a nice start.


Auburn Deserves Its Title, But The Game Deserves A Better Result

The BCS title game was settled, but who was really the nest team in the country?

I know you want some venom for the SEC especially after winning their 5th straight national championship in a 22-19 thrilling victory by Auburn over Oregon. Unfortunately I have none for you… well I do and I don’t.

I don’t because it was the designated BCS title game and Auburn and Oregon were fair participants in the game by winning all of the games on their schedule. I also hold no venom because I am happy that Cam Newton came out on top of all of the controversy and criticism that surrounded him and his father Cecil and the pay for play scandal.

Newton through it all stood tall and had great poise and presence in dealing with the media who were like vultures waiting for a new development in the story and for Newton to crack. Instead of cracking he responded with legendary performances like leading that second half comeback in Tuscaloosa to beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl to even have a shot in the title game.

Newton’s play on the field was more than worthy of his Heisman trophy win and the BCS national championship. While Oregon’s defense held him in check running the ball Newton won the game with his arm going 20-34 for 265 yards and two scores. While he wasn’t effective on the ground he got key first downs in the fourth quarter, which kept Oregon’s offense off of the field.

Even after his fumble that led to an Oregon score Newton came out and led the Tigers on their game-winning drive (aided nicely by freshman Michael Dyer who had a huge game and won the offensive MVP) without a sweat. Newton was not shaken by any obstacle thrown his way this entire season and deserved to win the title as compensation for his work.

In addition to Newton, how about the great play of Nick Fairley? Fairley was the defensive player of the game as he dominated Oregon’s offensive

Nick Fairley was a beast for Auburn.

line and held the Ducks running attack to under 100 rushing and LaMichael James to only 47. Fairley positioned himself as the possible number one overall pick in the draft with this performance and Carolina would be fools not to pick him.

The main reason Auburn won was not Fairley or Newton however, it was the fact that Oregon left points on the field o

n two possessions that will haunt Chip Kelly all offseason. The first was in the first quarter in the red zone when Darron Thomas was blitzed and threw an errant pass that was picked off by Demond Washington. It came when Oregon’s confusing offense was getting to Auburn and could’ve set the tone for the Ducks in a quarter when the Ducks defense was holding Newton and company in check.

The second came in the third quarter after a brilliant fake punt followed by a 30 yard completion from Thomas to Lavasier Tuinei. The Ducks had four tries inside the two yard line and came away with no points. Their inability to run the ball was evident Kenjon Barmer tried to run between the tackles and was stuffed for no gain as had been the case all night.

Those two possessions all but doomed the Ducks. They proved that they could run with the tigers but coming away empty handed two times in the red zone absolutely murdered them.

(Side note: why didn’t Chip Kelly try running outside the tackles? Oregon proved that it was just as fast as the Tigers yet Kelly never took advantage of his team’s speed and have Barmer or James try to hit the corners and take off. They played into the hands of Auburn’s defense by trying to get between the tackles and run. When that didn’t work they then put the game in Thomas’s hands who put up numbers but looked very shaky at times.)

So there you have it Auburn wins in a great title game that we should all be proud of and that was entertaining for everyone involved. Everyone’s happy end of story and close this puppy up… well…

Now here’s the part where you call me a hater, cry-baby and a punk, fair warning. There was a point in the third quarter where Auburn couldn’t get that extra push and put Oregon away though they were limiting their offense and moving the ball on their defense. At about the five minute mark of the quarter I looked at the guy next to me at the bar and said, “You think TCU is sitting at home going we could beat both of these teams?” He of course argued in the typical SEC, they’re the toughest, blah blah blah .Well that’s what I and many people across the country thought while watching a game that for the most part was dull and provided no secure closure for deciding who the national champ is, and that’s a problem.

Last year when Alabama beat Texas you knew from watching the game that Alabama was the best team in the country. The same thing goes for Florida in their 24-14 win over Oklahoma two years ago. I didn’t get that sense with Auburn. Did they win? Yes. However, I’m not satisfied with the result of them being the national champion because I don’t think they are the best team in the country.

I feel as though TCU, Wisconsin, Stanford, Alabama, Oklahoma and Boise State could all beat Auburn and I say that with a straight face. Auburn

After watching the title game TCU has a good case for being the best team in the country.

was not that impressive; they had various opportunities to put Oregon away and threw every opportunity away and let Oregon hang around. Good teams put their opponents to sleep and the Tigers were unable to do so.

Furthermore there is an undefeated team left in TCU who after beating a physical team in Wisconsin is sitting home undefeated and in my opinion deserves a fair shot at the national championship (you know where this is going.). If this game and result isn’t a clear indication that we need a playoff then I don’t know what is.

To me if Auburn couldn’t score on Oregon’s small and confusing defense then what would they do when faced with TCU’s faster and more physical defense? How would Nick Fairley fare against Wisconsin’s monstrous offensive line opening holes for all three of their running backs? Could they stop Oklahoma’s more sophisticated aerial assault? Or how about if Andrew Luck had time to throw on that weak secondary, what would happen? I think in every scenario they would get beat.

This was Auburn’s first game against an actual tough non-conference opponent (no Chattanooga and at home to a weak Clemson team doesn’t count) and they weren’t that impressive. I walked away from this game wanting more than what I got and I won’t have a chance to get it.

Unfortunately the BCS has too much money tied into the current system and they think the bowl system is what’s good for the tradition of the game (yes because there is so much tradition in the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl and the Little Caesar’s Bowl.) so it won’t happen anytime in the near future. That means that next year if Boise State, Oregon and Alabama all finish undefeated and Alabama beats Oregon 6-3 while Boise whips it up on Texas in the Fiesta Bowl guess what? Yep, more dissatisfaction.

This is the worst system in sports and will continue to be so unless we get a proper way of deciding a national champion that is satisfying to all involved. Once again a school is screwed and the viewer is not happy with the result but it is what it is.

The result is Auburn winning the national championship and they deserve it because they did what was asked of them. Cam Newton and company need to apologize to no one for their accomplishments on the field and should enjoy the fruits of their labor. On the flip side we’re still left wondering why there are still two undefeated teams left in college football and why everyone except the BCS thinks this is a bad thing. Could TCU beat Auburn? I don’t know, too bad we can’t find out and get the satisfaction the game needs and deserves.


The Seahawks Prove Us Wrong

The Seahawks and they're fans didn't have to apologize for making the playoffs at 7-9. However, we owe them an apology for doubting them.

I would like to take this time to make an apology to the Seattle Seahawks. I’m sorry for leaving you for dead before the game was even played.

I’m sorry for thinking that since you went 7-9 in the regular that for some reason that would carry over into the postseason and somehow hinder your play. I forgot that the regular season is the regular season and that the postseason is the postseason.

Let’s be real, no one had the Seahawks making out of the first quarter alive let alone contending in this game. From tv to radio to podcasts everyone had the Seahawks dead before the game was even played. However, it was with good reason, this team was terrible.

They lost all nine of their games by fifteen or more points, they ranked in the 20’s in total offense and defense, they won one of the worst divisions in recent memory with a 7-9 record making themo the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record. Of course no one had them picked, why would anyone expect this team to do anything but get destroyed by the defending champs on their home field?

Well apparently the Saints felt the same way and came out flat and let the Seahawks beat them down and send them marching back to New Orleans with an embarrassing loss.

The Saints jumped out to an early ten point advantage but soon became stagnant on offense and lost their rhythm, a problem that plagued them all year. Seattle took advantage thanks to a steady running game behind Marshawn Lynch and the hot game of Matt Hasselbeck, who overcame an early interception to throw three first half touchdowns and take a 24-20 halftime lead.

What was most shocking was how Seattle’s defensive line pushed around the Saints and were able to get pressure on Drew Brees and throw off his timing. Meanwhile Hasselbeck dominated New Orleans secondary and bludgeoned their pathetic safeties with great throw after great throw. The hip injury that plagued him all year was a non-factor as he looked like the former pro-bowlet that he was.

After his fourth TD toss in the third quarter put Seattle up by two possessions it was clear that the Saints were the weaker team on the field no matter the regular season record. One problem was that the Saints couldn’t run the ball at all (side note: if there wasn’t a more clear case that Reggie Bush needs to be cut then this was it. Bush is too soft to be an every down back in the NFL and lacks the proper instincts. Watching him hobble off of the field was like watching a replay of his time in the league. He has so much talent but just isn’t an NFL player and probably never will be. Looking back at that draft it seems like it was all hype and no results come to think of it. Look at Matt Leinart and Vince Young with Bush, they were the headliners the college stars that were going to be superstars and all of them have become bums. As bad as the Texans underachieve do you think they are happy with taking Mario Williams and not any of those three? I think so.), another problem was that there defense got totally man-handeled by a young and inexperienced Seattle offensive line. Left tackle Russell Okung held Will Smith in check from start to finish and the lSaints showed no real urgency to stop the Seahawks until the fourth quarter when Brees and company finally showed some life.

They'll be replaying the Marshawn Lynch run for years in Seattle.

After two scores and with their defense hanging on for their lives, the offense took the field with less than five minutes left and in dire need of first downs. Enter Lynch who was a cast-off of the Buffalo Bills and had been largely ineffective during his time in Seattle. Lynch picked up a first down on his first two carries of the drive and then reeled off one of the best runs in NFL history.

He burst through the o-line and ran through eight defenders in a wave of stiff arms, cuts and fakes en route to a 67 yard touchdown run that put Seattle up 41-30 and virtually sealed the game.

Once again the Seahawks beat up the Saints line and pushed them back to the Bayou and pushed themselves into the second round.

Stunning and jubilant all in one.

So now what do we do. Do we dare count them out or push them to the side? Uh, no. This is the playoffs and anything can happen, just ask the New Orleans Saints.

This 41-36 victory is further proof that nothing is ever certain and why games are played on the field because you never know what could happen. Like a 7-9 eleven point underdog beating the defending Super Bowl Champs in front of the loudest crowd in the league. No one saw it coming but that’s why you play the game, because you never know.

I think we all owe the Seahaeks an apology for that one.