Thursday, January 14, 2016

Trip to Hockeytown, USA 2015

In late June of 2015, the NHL released the schedule for their upcoming 2015-2016 season.  As always, the first thing I do when its released is see when the Wings play opening night and when they play the Pittsburgh Penguins.   As a die hard Wings fan, living in Pittsburgh, for many years, when they play the Pens in Pittsburgh, its my best time to see them in person.  This year, I noticed that the Wings would be coming to town for a preseason game on September 30th in Pittsburgh, which is also the anniversary of Maria and I's first date.  However, I also noticed that the two would be playing in a regular season game on Dec 31st at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.  New Years Eve is our engagement anniversary, which happened in Detroit after watching the Wings at the Joe.  Plus, I've been wanting to return to Detroit with the kids before they tear it down in a couple years.  Having Caleb see his middle name, Yzerman, hanging in the rafters of the Joe, where Steve Yzerman won so many games would be really special.  Never one to pass up a good adventure, Maria bought 4 tickets for the New Years Eve game and booked us a hotel that was literally 0.3 miles from the Joe.  It was my Christmas and Birthday present.  I was beyond thrilled and began counting down the days before the season even began.

On December 30th, we packed up the van, I jammed as much Red Wings clothing into my bag as I could and we headed off for Hockeytown, USA.  You know how they say a watched pot never boils.  The same can be said when driving to a place that you're really excited to go.  The GPS said it would take us 4 hours and 31 mins to get there and that's a long time, but it was the longest 4 hours and 31 minutes of my life.  I felt like I had been driving west for so long, that I would soon hit the Pacific Ocean.  Well, okay, maybe not that bad.  My excitement spiked when I saw my first highway sign that said "Detroit" on it.  It spiked again when we passed a giant Detroit Pistons basketball.  While coming into the city on M-10, we exited a tunnel and suddenly we were face to face with a huge sign that said "JOE LOUIS ARENA Home of the Red Wings".  I nearly wrecked the van as I yelled "Guys!  Its the Joe!!"  It wasn't even fair, I was totally unprepared for that, but it was the first of MANY pleasant surprises in our stay in Detroit.

We checked into the Crowne Plaza hotel, unpacked our bags and headed over to the Joe immediately.  It was actually kind of busy as the GLI (Great Lakes Invitational) hockey tournament was having its championship game between Michigan and Michigan Tech.  As I stood in front of the Joe, my daugther, Emily came running over and jumped into my arms for the picture.  Despite not really showing an interest in the Red Wings or just sports in general, she was really excited and seemed to be feeding off of my excitement.  We walked around the arena to the Gordie Howe entrance, snapped a few more pics and headed back to our hotel.  We made plans for dinner at Motor Burger in Windsor, Ontario (which was absolutely fantastic), did a little shopping at the "small" Devonshire Mall and then headed back to the hotel for bed.

The next morning, I woke up and thought to myself, "Oh my God, today is the day.  I'm going to the Joe to watch the Red Wings... TO-DAY".  I looked over at the kids bed and was surprised to see Emily already awake.  "Hey pumpkin, did you sleep alright?", I asked.  She responded, "I woke up like 5 times during the night.  I'm so excited to go to the Joe!"  I knew the feeling and was again surprised by Em's level of excitement.  That morning we did the Hudson Cafe on Woodward Ave, walked around the city a bit and over to the Spirit of Detroit statue.







In the afternoon, we headed over the greatest restaurant in the world (or at least, I think so), Hockeytown Cafe!  Besides the Joe, this was the most exciting place I wanted to visit on the trip.  A Red Wings themed restaurant, with pictures, old jerseys, NHL trophies, Red Wing themed menus, Red Wing patterned carpet, Red Wing art, big screen HD TVs everywhere.  It looks like what my man cave would look like if I were a billionaire.  When the food arrived, Caleb looked at the Hockeytown decorated paper underneath the food in his basket and said "Wow!  I can't believe I'm eating on something this nice!"  After we finished our meals, we did a tour of the place, snapped a bunch of pics and headed over to Comerica Park, the baseball stadium for the Detroit Tigers which is literally right across the street from Hockeytown Cafe.  Later, we passed Cheli's Chili Bar, the bar owned by former Wings defenseman Chris Chelios and took the people mover (love that name!) back to the hotel.  It was almost gametime!

The doors to the Joe open 90 minutes before gametime which was 6:00pm, so right at 4:30pm, we left our hotel room cut through the Cobo Center and over to the Joe.  It was pretty cold and the wind made it feel like the artic, so we had to be quick.  We learned the way to the Joe through the Cobo by just following people that were on their way to the GLI championship game yesterday.  Our anticipation kept rising as we walked closer and closer amongst a crowd of other Red Wings fans.  As we came out, we were walking parallel to Steve Yzerman Drive and the kids did an all out sprint towards the arena.  Maria told them to wait and pose for a picture at the bottom of the steps.  Immediately after she put her camera down, they both turned around and began running up the huge steps just outside the Joe.  I don't know why, but this moment struck me as being really special.  I don't know if it was because we've been waiting for this moment since August.  Or maybe its because my kids are finally getting to visit my favorite sports arena.  Or maybe its because last time I was here, it was just Maria and I and she was just my "girlfriend" and now we're back I'm married to this gorgeous woman and we're entering this place with our kids.


We got in, got our free programs and began to take in the sites.  It might have been my second time at this arena, but it was just as good as the first time as I got to watch both Emily and Caleb with wide eyes take it all in.  "Look!  An octopus!!" exclaimed Emily pointing at a cartoon Octopus wearing a Wings jersey hanging from the ceiling.  "Look Dad! Gordie!" yelled Caleb as we passed by the Gordie Howe trophy.  We did a full lap around the Joe, taking so many pictures, you'd think we were putting together a presentation for a virtual tour.  We noticed one of the kiosks handing out certificates and looked to see what was going on.  The Red Wings created a certificate welcoming kids to their first game at the Joe Louis Arena.  How perfect was that?    At that point, we figured, we should probably head over to our seats, see the ice and the plethora of championship banners hanging from the rafters.

We took about two steps into the heart of the Joe, when a female Red Wings employee ran over to us, asking, "Excuse me!  Would your kids be interested in participating in a dance off during the second period?"  Maria and I looked at each other for a brief second before saying, "Yes!  Yes!  Of course!"  The employee said that they could pick whatever song they wanted and to meet her by section 115 at the 12 min mark of the 2nd period.  We said we'll be there and continued on to our seats.  As we walked up the aisle, Maria grabs my arm and says "We have now until the 12 min mark of the 2nd period to get these kids as jazzed up and sugared up as we can."  Caleb seemed a little nervous and said he didn't want to do it, but I convinced him otherwise.  "Come on, buddy!  This is a great opportunity.  You're going to be dancing for everybody at the Joe!  You!  Caleb Yzerman.  Once again, someone with the name Yzerman is going to be getting cheers at the Joe.  This will be one of those things that you will NEVER EVER forget."  Over hearing me pumping up our son, Maria turns to me, "Hey hun, are you sure YOU don't want to be in the dance off?"

The pregame warm ups began and all 4 of us headed down to the glass behind the Red Wings net.  In comparison to the other arenas I've been in, getting from the second tier all the way down to the glass we actually quite easy.  No need to exit the area and go back in.  No bars preventing you from getting from one section to another.  Watching the pregame warm ups is easily one of my favorite moments of going to a hockey game.  To be that close to the players.  To be close enough to see the stitching in their jerseys.  The sound of the skates cutting the ice.  The vibration and sometimes deafening sound of the puck smacking off the glass.  Its unforgettable.  It was a little more crowded in the Wings end than I'm used to in Pittsburgh, but the kiddos still got a spot near the glass.

The starting goalies for the game were Detroit native, Jeff Zatkoff in net for the Pens and 23 year old Petr Mrazek for the Wings.  Neither team had been playing particularly well at the time, the Wings were just coming back from a road trip and lost their last two and the Pens had just lost to Toronto the night before in Pittsburgh in OT.  As the game started, the Wings looked like they might break out of their slump as they scored two quick goals.  After the first one, I was thrilled, not just for the goal, but because my kids would get to experience a goal celebration at the Joe.  The roar of the crowd, the horn, the "Hey Hey Hockeytown" song played after the goal.  That's what its all about.  After the second goal, Maria left in search of sugar to get these kids wound up for their dance off later that night.  Earlier in the night, Maria and I were looking around the arena and noticing many people that looked like other people we know back home and how weird it was.  With Maria still away, Caleb points to another section and goes "Hey!  That girl looks like Mom!"  Emily looks over "Hey!  That DOES look like Mom "  Caleb continued, "What the heck?  How many people look like Mom in this world?"  I started scanning in the direction he pointed looking for this Maria doppelganger and found her, "What the... that IS your Mom.  Why in the world is she over there and what is that box she's holding?  Does she know those people over there?"  Kids burst out into laughter.  Caleb pats me on the shoulder "Sorry Dad, but I think you lost your wife".  I give Caleb a confused face and look back at Maria who waves at us and then when there's a stoppage in play, gets out of her seat and heads back over to us with a box of donuts.  "Sorry, I went to 226-B.  I forgot we were in 226-A.  Then I couldn't get back because play had started and I had to wait for a break in the action before I could get up."  She handed the donuts over to the kids who immediately began devouring them.  The first period ended with the good guys on top 2-0.

During the intermission, Caleb mentioned that he was nervous, but I continued to assure him that everything would be alright.  "You guys dance and sing around the house all day long, now you're just going to do it for a crowd and win awesome prizes.  Just be your crazy self out there."  The second period started and the Pens went on a power play.  It didn't take long for them to take advantage either making the score 2-1.  After the Pens goal, I realized we had a row of Pens fans behind us.  Lovely.  I come all the way to Detroit and I still have to listen to Pens fans when they score.  Maria asked them where in Pittsburgh they were from and they said "Oh we're not from Pittsburgh.  We're from Windsor."  Really?  This was one of the many themes of the night.  Maria would approach random Pens fans, ask them where in Pittsburgh they're from and they would respond the same way.  We're from Dearborn, we're from Ontario, etc.  Anywhere BUT Pittsburgh.  Out of about 20-30 people we talked with only two were ACTUALLY from the Burgh.

As the clock ticked down to 12 minutes, you could see the nervousness on the kids faces.  At the next stoppage in play around the 12 minute mark, Maria grabbed the kids and headed down to section 115.  I stayed behind to do the filming.   As the period continued, I lost focus of the game and was more concerned with the kiddos.  Kris Letang scored yet another powerplay goal to tie it up 2-2.  During a TV timeout with 5:51 left in the second period, I hear "So I have Caleb and Emily here...", I nearly jumped out of my seat, pull out my phone and began recording, totally not expecting them to be on already.  It was time to see if all the sugar we fed them would pay off.

Caleb was up first and he started dancing to DJ Snake's "Turned Down For What".  He jumped around and danced like crazy with thousands of Wings fans laughing and cheering. Emily continued the Dance Off, dancing to the same song, spinning and whipping her body around to the beat of the song with more cheers for the Joe crowd.  "Okay, who's it going to be?  Is it going to be Caleb?"  Announcer holds her hand over Caleb's head followed by a roar from the crowd.  "Or is it going to be Emily?"  More cheers from the crowd.  As their father, it was quite a thrill to hear my kids get cheered, but in a somewhat ironic twist, it was the boy with the middle name "Yzerman" that won the dance off.  For participating, everyone in our row won gift cards for Massage Green Spa.  See the Dance off video!

I sat back in my seat, put my hand on my heart and tried to calm down.  I took a few moments to myself, looking around at the banners, then looked at my phone and noticed I had a missed call and a few texts from my wife.  I couldn't hear the voicemail, so I looked at the text which read, "I'm going on the zamboni during the second intermission!"  I sat up fast and yelled "What?!" out loud, grabbing the attention of pretty much my entire section.  Once again, my heart was pounding out of my chest.  At this point, the game was secondary to me.  I just wanted to get to intermission.  Maria made several jokes throughout that day about selling the tickets to one of those scalpers outside the Joe or the hotel losing our reservations again (it happened the first time we went to Detroit), so I wasn't completely sure if she was telling the truth about the zamboni ride which is absolutely UN-BELIEV-ABLE!

As the second intermission began, I moved down closer to the ice and saw a guy dressed as Abe Lincoln on the first zamboni.  I looked at the second one coming onto the ice, squinted my eyes, looking for Maria and I saw my white jersey and her long hair and yelled, "Oh my God!  She IS on the zamboni!!"  After they introduced Abe Lincoln the announcer said "And riding the zamboni with Dave, the First Lady of Hockeytown tonight, Maria Fruscello."  I was floored!  They even pronounced our last name correctly!  Is this a dream?!    As she rode on the ice, they played "I just met a girl named Maria" from West Side Story.  During the pre game warmups, Maria talked to pretty much everyone down behind the Wings net and when she passed them on the zamboni they recognized her, waved and cheered.  I was just in stunned disbelief.  My Wife.  Is Riding a Zamboni. At the Joe Louis Arena.  I recorded pretty much her entire ride.  See the First Lady of Hockeytown riding a zamboni at the Joe!


The third period started and I barely even noticed as I was just anxious for them to get back, so I could talk to them about their experiences.  About 5-10 minutes into the 3rd period, I saw them coming up the steps with huge grins.  "How?  Just how in the world....?" I said to Maria.  "Well, while I was down there with the kids while they were doing their dance, I overheard someone say they needed a second rider for the other zamboni.  As soon as I heard that I said, I'd do it.  Next thing, I know, they're handing me a waiver to sign and then I was on the zamboni."  Looking at my wife, "Unbelievable!  Seriously!"  My son won a couple slices of Little Caesars pizza for the Dance Off and was holding a Red Wings practice puck, "Daddy!  They said Pavel Datsyuk touched this puck!"  Still in shock over everything that had happened in the past half hour, I just looked at him and nodded.  Each of them had a Wings practice puck and Maria also was holding a $25 gift certificate for merchandise at the Joe or Hockeytown Authentics.  "Here you can have this.  I feel bad that it wasn't you that got to ride the zamboni."  I just shrugged my shoulders, "Don't feel bad.  I loved seeing you out there!  It was great!"  Truthfully, I really did enjoy seeing her out there.  One week earlier, on Christmas Eve, she was laying in a hospital bed, barely able to move after having her gallbladder removed.  She could have skipped the trip to Detroit, but she toughed it out, every step of the way was rewarded in a huge way.  At this point, I noticed the score was now 4-2 Pens, but nothing was going to put a damper on this night.  Not for our family anyways.  "How funny would it have been if while on the zamboni, I pulled off my Wings jersey and revealed a Penguins one underneath?"  Looking at her with raised eyebrows, "Yeah, that probably would've gotten us killed."  She smiled, "I'm just kidding.  I'm definitely a Wings fan now.  Its just so much fun here!"   Nodding in agreement, "Well yeah, you were just riding around the ice being serenaded by the Joe Louis Arena with the song "Maria".  How could you NOT be a huge fan after something like that?"

As the final minutes ticked down, we left a little early so we could use this gift certificate because Hockeytown Authentics was not exactly along the way going home and the shops at the Joe were closing up.  As we waded through the crowds, we came to a souvenir shop and despite trying to get Maria a Wings t-shirt, she insisted, I get something since they all got something already.  I ended up getting a sweet looking Justin Abdelkader Stadium Series t-shirt and since I bought it at the Joe, you know that means I'm going to have to be buried in it now.  ;-)

As we walked through the Cobo, back to our hotel, Maria and I kept looking at each other in shock of the sequence of events for the night.  "Is this a dream?"  I asked.  "Is this real life??  Did I really just do that?"  Maria asked.  All of this seemed too good to be true, yet it was!  Since we didn't have a Massage Green Spa back in Pittsburgh or really anywhere near us, Maria just handed them out to random people the next couple days brightening their day.  We drove her to the Detroit airport as she was heading over the Rhode Island to visit friends (the adventures never really end, just a new one begins), before heading back to the Burgh with the kiddos.

Going into the trip, my biggest concern wasn't "Will the Wings win the game?".  My biggest concern was "Will my family have a fun and memorable experience?"  The Red Wings mean a lot to me.  I've been a fan for about 30 years.  This logo, these colors, these players, the memories, this arena are all special to me.  I was going to have a great time regardless.  For this trip though, I wanted all this to be special for them too.  They were all fans for reasons that were not their own.  They were fans because I am.  Now they're fans because they experienced one of the most unforgettable nights of their life.  One of the slogans for the Wings this year is "Its More Than Hockey".  How appropriate that slogan was for this night.  We went to a hockey game and what we'll remember from this night has little to do with the hockey game itself.  Next year will be the last year for the Joe.  Its going to be demolished and a new arena will be built and ready to go for the 2017-2018 season.  This trip will in all likelihood, be my final visit to the Joe and for the kids, their only visit.  I hate to see it go.  Cool looking, high tech modern arenas might be really nice, but nothing can replace the history, tradition or experiences of the old one.  It will be gone, but it'll never be forgotten by this family.  We'll never forget the night the Joe Louis Arena opened up its arms and gave the Fruscello family a big hug!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Coincidence or Super Fixed?

The Super Bowl. Is there a bigger event in sports today? The NFL is the most popular and most successful business in the sports world and their championship game is so popular its watched by millions around the world. It cost $3 million for a 30 second ad during the game. With this much focus and attention being drawn to one particular game, its important for the NFL to "put on a good show". In the 80's and 90's, it wasn't always a good game. There were quite a few blowouts. The Bears blowing out the Patriots 46-10, San Francisco blowing out the Broncos 55-10, then blowing out the Chargers 49-26, the Cowboys destroying the Bills 52-17... I think you get the idea. These games were over by halftime. The Super Bowl was getting to be known as the "Super Blowout". Nobody was watching by the second half and advertisers were not interested in buying ad time during the second half since less people would see it. The match ups were somewhat boring as well. What story was there behind San Diego vs San Francisco? They're both California teams... so what? Dallas and Buffalo... nothing in common, no story. There was hardly any story behind the match ups. Well that was until the 2001 season. Everything then magically changed.

St. Louis Rams vs New England Patriots 2001 - In wake of 9/11, the NFL decided to make the theme of the Super Bowl a "patriotic" one. This was the year of the infamous "tuck rule". Oh you know, that play where Brady does a pump fake, resets, gets hit, fumbles, Oakland recovers the fumble, Brady goes the sidelines and puts his head down, Belichick takes off his headset, Oakland gets ready for a kneel down... but suddenly the refs get together, review the play and say that the fumble was actually an incomplete pass. Uhhh yeah sure... The Patriots were allowed to keep the ball, they score a TD, win the game and then go onto the Super Bowl. The Patriots playing in the patriotic super bowl, what a coincidence! Not only that, but they go on to win with a last second 48 yard field goal. The whole nation (except St Louis) was so happy to see the Patriots do our our country proud by winning the Super Bowl!

Oakland Raiders vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2002 - The Raiders old coach Jon Gruden leaves Oakland and takes the head coaching job in Tampa. Less than a year later, wouldn't you know it, Gruden is facing his old team in the Super Bowl. What are the odds of that happening?

Carolina Panthers vs New England Patriots 2003 - The Patriots failed to make the playoffs in 2002, which gave some conspiracy theorists a reason to believe that what they did in 2001 was the work of the NFL especially with the whole "tuck rule" incident. Well that Pats make it back to the Super Bowl and its almost an exact replay of the game from two years ago. Ricky Proehl scores a late TD for the other team to tie it, Vinateri kicks a field goal to win it in the final seconds. Yay for "America's team" again.

New England Patriots vs Philadelphia Eagles 2004 - Not since the 70's Steelers have we seen 3 Super Bowl victories in 5 years. What a story it would be if "America's Team" the Patriots won 3 out of 4. They would be a dynasty and possibly the greatest team of all time!

Seattle Seahawks vs Pittsburgh Steelers 2005 - In this season the Super Bowl location is Detroit. Kind of an odd place for a big game, but not unprecedented, it was there in 1982. Wouldn't you know it though, future Hall of Famer and Steelers RB Jerome Bettis was born in Detroit and he let it be known that this was going to be his last year. What a way to go, winning the Super Bowl in your hometown. Going out on top! What a story!

Indianapolis Colts vs Chicago Bears 2006 - For the last several seasons, the Colts were one of the top teams in the league, but could never quite get over the hump. They had great regular season records and every year you would hear about Tony Dungy possibly being the first black head coach in the Super Bowl. Finally it was he year and wouldn't you know it, he would be coaching against another African American coach Lovie Smith. The two were already very good friends and would make history together by being the first two black head coaches in the Super Bowl with one of them being the first black coach to win the Super Bowl. Great feel good story!

New York Giants vs New England Patriots 2007 - It was discovered earlier in this season that "America's Team" was a fraud. They got caught cheating during their championship seasons and the public was outraged. Outraged that it happened and outraged that the NFL merely gave them a slap on the wrist when they were caught (They also destroyed the evidence of the cheating, which is very odd to say the least). People were starting to say that the cheating was the only reason they won. What could save the face of the NFL and the integrity of the league? Ohhh how about a 16-0 regular season without cheating? Then go into the Super Bowl 18-0 with the chance to be called the greatest team of all time. Unfortunately for the NFL, the Giants won the Super Bowl in the final minute causing the Patriots to go 18-1. But you know what? A team blowing their chance at perfection in the final minute of the last game is a huge story!

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Arizona Cardinals 2008 - When long time head coach Bill Cowher retired, the Steelers had a choice to make. Who do they make the next head coach? Current OC Ken Whisenhunt, offensive line coach Russ Grimm or Rooney Rule candidate Mike Tomlin. The Steelers, of course, went with Tomlin, while Whisenhunt and Grimm went off to the desert in Arizona. Wouldn't you know it, one year later, its Tomlin vs Whisenhunt and Grimm in the Super Bowl? What are the odds, right? Especially since the Cardinals hadn't even been to any type of championship game since 1947. The Steelers win, Tomlin shows the Rooney's they made the right choice and Pittsburgh is known as "Sixburgh".

New Orleans Saints vs Indianapolis Colts 2009 - In the Saints 42 year history, they have never even made it to the Super Bowl. They were the laughing stock of the league for decades. The "Aints", as they were called, only had one good player even worth mentioning and that was QB Archie Manning. He was the lone bright spot on a very dark franchise history. With Hurricane Katrina destroying the city of New Orleans it really is a fantastic story that this city was able to be rebuilt and recover. Wouldn't it be great though if the Saints actually went to the Super Bowl too? Heck, not only would it be great if they went to the Super Bowl, but what if they were to go up against Archie Manning's son, Peyton?! Wouldn't that be an awesome story?!

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Green Bay Packers 2010 - Green Bay's first round pick from 2005, Aaron Rodgers, didn't get to start in his first NFL game till 2008 thanks to the "evil" Brett Favre holding him down. At the beginning of the year, Favre wanted to give it one last go to win a Super Bowl before retiring. However Favre wasn't very good, he lost to his old team twice, got injured numerous times, watched his consecutive games streak come to an end as well as his career. Meanwhile, in the city that the "evil" Favre used to dwell, a new hero comes to the light in the form of Aaron Rodgers, the guy Favre was trying to hold down. Rodgers goes on to win his first championship in the same year that is Favre's last. As Favre's light is extinguished, Rodgers light shines brightly through the NFL world as he offers more promise to Green Bay than the Favre ever did.

New York Giants vs New England Patriots 2011 - One of the closest most emotion filled, intense Super Bowl's in recent history was the Giants vs Patriots back in January of 2008.  It pretty much had it all.  New York vs Boston.  Brady vs (Eli) Manning.  The wildcard, barely made the playoff Giants vs the unbeaten Pats.  It came down to the last thrilling minute.  It was so good, why not have it again?  Surely, the Pats would get their revenge, right?  Not so much.  In fact, this game was eerily similar to the one played in 2008.  Eli needing to drive his team down the field in the final minutes, an unbelievable throw and catch, a last minute TD, Brady lobbing bombs down the field from his end out of desperation.  Nothing makes a non-Patriot NFL fan smile like the Patriots losing in the Super Bowl.

However, I always felt like this was a mistake.  Had it not been for the 49ers Kyle Williams' fumble on a punt in OT and Billy Cundiff's chipshot miss against the Patriots, it could very well have been John vs Jim Harbaugh in this years Super Bowl.  You know what they say... better luck next year.

Baltimore Ravens vs San Francisco 49ers 2012 - So after another long, hard fought, unpredictable season, both Harbaugh brothers are in conference championships again.  What are the odds right?  I mean, especially since the 49ers were starting a 2nd year QB that only started 8 games this year and the Ravens backed into the playoffs losing 4 of their last 5.  Its incredible that they were both able to make it back to the Conference championships again in back to back years.  And wouldn't you know it... they both won this time around!  Its the Harbaugh Bowl!  Brother vs brother!  John vs Jim!  What a great story!

Seattle Seahawks vs Denver Broncos 2013 - For the first time in years, there really wasn't a special story to go along with this Super Bowl.  Except it was being played in NYC for the first time ever, which has an outdoor stadium and could potentially open the door for other northern US cities to host future Super Bowls.  Plus, we had the number one offense in the NFL with TD pass record breaker Peyton Manning playing against the league's number one defense, which apparently never happened before in Super Bowl history.  Pretty awesome, just like old times where the best two teams go to the Super Bowl, with really no story surrounding the game.  Sounds like a good idea on paper, however, in reality it was a boring Super Blowout with the Seahawks winning 43-8.  Maybe the NFL should makes some "adjustments" to get some additional interest in the game.

New England Patriots vs Seattle Seahawks 2014 - Here we go!  Now we're talking.  The team of the 2000's vs this young potential dynasty team of the 2010's looking to go back-to-back.  Are the Pats still the kings of the NFL or is this a changing of the guard?  Ohhh but wait!  What's this?  The footballs that the Patriots were using in the AFC championship game were under inflated?  Isn't that against the rules?  Isn't that cheating?  Didn't the Patriots already get caught and punished for cheating before?  Who knows?  Let's talk about Deflategate (because everything has to end with "-gate" these days) non-stop for two weeks on all the major news networks leading up to the Super Bowl.  That should generate PLENTY of interest for a game that's already interesting.  Then there's the game itself.  One of the best of all time.

Some guy comes off the Seahawks practice squad and makes these sensational catches.  Tom Brady passes Joe Montana for Super Bowl TD passes. Then there's that ending that will have people talking for years.  After blowing a 10 point lead, the Seahawks were on the move in the minutes, just like the Giants were in both their games against the Patriots.  Then Jermaine Kearse makes this impossibly spectacular catch, just like Giants receiver David Tyree and Mario Manningham did in their game against the Patriots.  The Seahawks have the ball on the NE 5 yard line, hand off to their unstoppable bulldozer, Marshawn Lynch and he grinds it to the 1 yard line.  There's no way Lynch doesn't get 1 yard on the next three plays.  He is the perfect RB to have in your backfield in this situation.  He bulls over people, breaks tackles, moves piles.  Surely Belichick will use one of his two timeouts to kill the clock because there's no way Lynch isn't getting into the endzone at some point.  The game's going to end the same way as it did in those two matchups against the Giants with a TD in the final minute, Brady lobbing up bombs in the final seconds and ultimately losing the Super Bowl again.  Wait a minute... Belichick isn't using his timeouts?  Seattle is going to score a TD. Lynch has been running over Patriots defenders all night.  They could put 20 guys on the field, he's not going to be stopped.  Use a timeout, Bill!  Wait a minute... why is Seattle lining up in the shotgun?  They're on the one yard line.  Ohhh maybe they'll do a draw play to Lynch or have Wilson run it in or roll out and attempt a pass or run it in that way.  A slant pass?!  From the one yard line?!  To the busiest, most crowded part of the field?!  Intercepted!!  Patriots win!  What the...?  What just happened?  How did that happen?  Why did that happen?  Did Pete Carroll suddenly develop a phobia of big silver football trophies and decided to call the worst play you could possibly do in that situation?  How do you NOT hand the ball to the NFL leader in rushing TDs on the 1 yard line with 30 seconds left and the Super Bowl on the line?  How does someone get to the Super Bowl twice and make a call that bad?  I mean, throwing a pass isn't a good idea, even if it was a safe play like a shovel pass or a fade or an out.  But to throw a slant pass from the one yard line is just non-sense!  There's only 11 yards of field to work with, the safeties play up with the LBs because they have no where else to go.  With all the Patriots defenders stacked in the middle, you'd have to be blind, paid off or stupid to throw it there.  Football experts try to rationalize it and say that the Pats were expecting the run, so they had to pass.  Running a play with a low chance of success with a Super Bowl championship one yard away is idiocy.  Plain and simple.  There's no way Marshawn Lynch gets the ball three times from the one yard line with the Super Bowl on the line and doesn't get one yard.  If by some fluke of a reason that does happen.  Oh well.  You fired your best gun until you ran out of ammo, but this war just wasn't meant to be won.  Football experts with common sense just shake their heads in disbelief.  How the hell does someone just basically give away a Super Bowl?  How?  I don't know, but I'm sure while we're all talking about "what the hell were the Seahawks thinking" the NFL will quickly and quietly be sweeping Deflategate under the rug.  

Carolina Panthers vs Denver Broncos 2015 - With the outcome of Deflategate seriously damaging the NFL's reputation, they needed something or someone to fix it.  Enter Peyton Manning.  Over past 18 years, nobody has done more to promote or help the image of the league more than number 18.  He is one of the league's greatest players and ambassadors.  With Peyton struggling at the end of last year and entering the final year of his contract, many believed this would be his final season.  Unfortunately, Manning's struggles continued into this year and in the first nine games threw just 9 TDs and 17 INTs.  Despite the worst numbers of his career, he was somehow able to lead the Broncos through the playoffs (after backup and future Broncos QB Brock Osweiler got them into the playoffs) and back to the Super Bowl.  One of the greatest, if not the greatest, NFL player of all time playing his final game in the Super Bowl.  He even managed to beat out his arch-nemesis, Tom Brady to get there.  What a great feel good story.  How could anyone not root for Peyton?  He's one of the classiest, nicest, most well respected figures in sports.  If you didn't already know that, it became even more obvious how good a person he was when compared to Super Bowl QB counterpart, Cam Newton of the Panthers who is pretty much the exact opposite of Manning in just about every way.  As he had all year, Manning struggled in the game, turned the ball over twice and was very ineffective.  However, the Broncos top ranked defense and a Super Bowl record tying number of penalties (12) called against the Panthers, ensured that the NFL would end this tumultuous season on a high note.  For the 3rd time in the last 10 years, one of the league's greatest players, would go out on top.  Peyton Manning.  Football Hero.  Ambassador to the game.  All around good guy.  Finishes his illustrious career with the Lombardi Trophy in hand.  What a great story!

That's a pretty incredible span. 14 of the 15 games with an intriguing storyline. Half of them were decided by 4 points or less. Only two games were won by more than 14 points. With the exception of the Patriots lost perfect season, all of them are considered to be "happy endings", at least in the minds of the NFL/average American football fan with no interest in either team. A dynasty, history being made, going out on top, former allies matched up against one another, brother vs brother, redemption. It was quite the decade and a half huh?

I'm not saying that the NFL is "fixing" their games, but its naive to think this is all happening naturally. It went from being just two really good teams playing each other, most of the time it ended up in a blow out, to every game is really close and has an intriguing back story for the media to hype for two weeks prior to the game being played. The NFL needs this game to have it all and for the last 14 Super Bowls, it has. Coincidence or fixed? You tell me.

UPDATE:  I've updated this blog post with 2015 to keep track of this continuing trend of incredibly fascinating games that the NFL is lucky enough to have each and every year.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Penguins headed in wrong direction

This past spring, the Pittsburgh Penguins had probably the easiest path the Stanley Cup Finals that I can ever remember. Ottawa, Montreal and Philadelphia, none of which would have even qualified for the playoffs in the Western Conference. It looked promising, but they fell flat. The same can be said for the Penguins off season. The Penguins wanted to bolster their defense and were rumored to be interested in guys like Anton Volchenkov and even traded for the rights to Dan Hamhuis. On July 2nd came, the Penguins didn't get either. Not only did they not get neither Volchenkov or Hamhuis, but they also lost their best defenseman, Sergei Gonchar as well.

I understand that Gonchar is 36 and he was looking to remain a Penguin until he was almost 40, but so what? Its not as if Gonchar's skills were clearly diminishing. As I mentioned in my previous post, Gonchar had just 4 less powerplay points than Crosby and played in 19 less games. He was second in the NHL in powerplay assists. If you thought the Penguins had problems on the powerplay before, how well will they do without one of the league's best powerplay quarterbacks? I know a lot of you expect Kris Letang to "step it up" and be that guy but I haven't seen any evidence of him being able to do that. Gonchar finished with 30 powerplay points last year in 62 games. Letang played in 73 games and finished with 5. They played on the same powerplay unit together. Gonchar got points, Letang did not. Gonchar has that big heavy shot that you need on your powerplay. Letang has a big heavy shot too, unfortunately most of the time, that shot is smacking off the glass.

The Penguins did manage to snatch up a couple of defensemen though. Not the ones they wanted, but Shero was determined to not let that cap space burn a hole in his pocket. He signed Zbynek Michalek, a shutdown stay at home shot blocker from Phoenix for $4 mil a year for 5 years. So they let Rob Scuderi, who does the exact same thing for less money, walk away last year and they get this guy. Devoting that much money for that long to a guy that just blocks shots is a little puzzling. Mark Eaton, who is a smart shot blocking defenseman went to the Islanders for $2.5 mil.

Shero wasn't done yet though. Rather than sign Gonchar for $5.5 mil for 3 years, he goes out and gets former NJ Devil Paul Martin for $20 mil over 4 years. That's right, instead of having one of the best defensemen in the league for just a half mil more, he signs an offensive minded defenseman that is nowhere near as good as Gonchar. Five million a year for 4 years for Paul Martin?? He's a fast skater and a decent passer, but he's actually worse than Gonchar defensively (which is the reason a lot of yinzers wanted Gonchar gone) and his shot isn't impressive. He's been the Devils go to guy for offense from the blueline for several years and the most points he's ever had in a season was 32. Martin missed almost the entire year with an injury in 09-10 and the Devils finished with the second best record in the conference, so he won't exactly be missed by them.

What Ray Shero needs to understand is that there's this thing called a "salary cap". In a "salary cap" era, you need to make smart decisions. You're not going to be able to fill all of your team's needs, you're going to have holes somewhere. When the Penguins signed Crosby, Malkin and Staal to big contracts, they made it apparent that this was going to be an offensive minded team. Get what you can defensively and spend money on forwards. Acquire players that will enable you to get the most of your big investments (Crosby, Malkin, Staal). When the Penguins won the Cup in 09, Eaton, Gill, Scuderi, Orpik and Letang were all under $4 mil. The bulk of their cap space was spent on forwards, as it should be. The Penguins are now in a bad spot. Outside the big three, what do they have? Kunitz? Cooke? Talbot? If guys like Cooke and Talbot are playing on your second line, you have problems. However, they don't have any cap space left to sign anyone thanks to Shero's wasteful spending. It should also be noted that Volchenkov and Hamhuis each signed deals worth $4.5 mil, which means the Pens could have gotten the defensemen they wanted for the same price they got Michalek and Martin.

I hope you like look of this Pens team, because barring a blockbuster trade or a huge raise in the salary cap, this team is pretty much set (or stuck) for the next 2-3 years. I keep hearing Pens fans say they'll be alright because Eric Tangradi will be on the big club this year. The same Tangradi that scored just 17 goals in the AHL last year?

Even though Ilya Kovalchuk isn't signed yet, its being rumored that the teams interested in him are trying to sign him to one of these huge contracts (10-15 years) that lower the cap hit. Kovalchuk is looking at a $5-6 mil cap hit because of this. If *I* was in Shero's place going into the off season, I would have re-signed Gonchar and Eaton. Then traded Fleury and his $5 mil a year contract. He's not $4 million better than Brent Johnson and its been proven by the Wings, Flyers and Blackhawks that you don't need a high priced goalie to win in the NHL. Finally, I would have made a strong pitch to sign Kovalchuk to one of those mega deals. The $5 mil they're spending on Fleury SHOULD be spent on a much needed goal scoring winger. Kovalchuk is one of the best scorers out there and would be far more valuable to the team than Fleury is now.

Ray Shero is failing as the Penguins GM. It doesn't take a genius to know that you need to re-sign Crosby and Malkin when their contracts expire. The money he's paying Staal is too much for his current role on the team and the money he's spending on Fleury, Martin, and Michalek is unbelievable. He's had 5 years to get a winger for Crosby and aside from the brief stint he's had with Hossa, his best linemate has been Chris Kunitz who's never had more than 60 points in a season. That's pretty pitiful considering names like Heatley, Kovalchuk, Gaborik and Kessel have all been up for grabs in the past couple years. If the Penguins are going to head back in the right direction, its going to take big moves, moves that Shero has proven he doesn't have the stones to make.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Factoring In: 06/30/2010

- Yesterday, the Dallas Stars said that they would not offer the 40 year old Mike Modano a new contract despite his desire to still play hockey. To me, this is a classless move by the Stars organization. Modano has been the face of that franchise since they were the Minnesota North Stars back in the early 90's. If he wants to play another year, you sign him to a one year deal, he won't cost that much and you put him on your third or fourth line. He's earned the right to choose when he retires and if he wants to play another year after all he's done for your franchise, the Stars should be glad to have him back. Now Modano has to decide between choosing another team or retire. He really only has three options at this point. Play for the Minnesota Wild and end his career in the same city he started it in. Play for the Detroit Red Wings so he can play his final year in his hometown and have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup. Or retire. I would love to see Modano in a Wings jersey. He's a smart, classy, two way player that would fit in really nice on our third line. For the right price, I think this is something Detroit needs to consider. How great of a story would it be to see Modano win the Cup in his hometown and both he and Lidstrom end their illustrious careers as champions.

- With the NHL free agent frenzy nearing, the Penguins have yet to come to terms with defenseman and powerplay specialist Sergei Gonchar. I've heard pretty much every Penguins fan I know say "Ohhh we don't need him", "He's too old" or "Did you see how Travis Moen blew past him in Game 7? He's terrible". I strongly disagree. First off, the Penguins DO need him. His presence on the powerplay is critical. Gonch finished with just 4 less powerplay points than team leader Sidney Crosby and played in 19 less games. He was also second in the NHL among defensemen in powerplay assists, one point behind Mike Green. Last season, Gonchar missed all but 25 games during the regular season. The team struggled badly on the powerplay until he returned. The year before that Gonchar was 2nd in the league in powerplay points, including forwards. His defensive skills have always been questionable, but that's not his role. His role is to supply offense from the blueline and there are very few people in the NHL that have done that as well as Gonchar. You can say "We don't need him" and "He's too old" now, but in the Fall when the Penguins can't score on the man advantage, somewhere in the back of your mind, you'll think, "Hey, maybe that Gonchar guy wasn't so bad afterall".

- I've never really been a fan of the NBA, but the rumors about free agents LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh getting together and forming a mega team in Miami are really interesting. Three of the best basketball players in the world all joining the same team at the same time. A lot of current NBA fans are saying its bad for the game to have one team with that many stars and it takes away from the competitive spirit of the game. Let's put it this way, I had ZERO interest in the NBA before this. If this does happen and all three sign with the Heat, I will find myself watching NBA games this season. I want to see this mega team tear through the NBA. It would be really something to behold. It would be fun for Heat fans, obviously and it would be fun for non-Miami fans because just imagine how amazing it would be if this superstar team lost and your team beat them. These three joining the Miami Heat would be one of the greatest things to happen to the NBA in a long time.

- Sticking with basketball, people are saying that LeBron should stay in Cleveland and that he would be a traitor if he left and a coward for joining a team of all stars. He's been with the Cavs for 7 years and made it to the Finals once. From my understanding, he was the whole show that year and had very little support. He continues to receive virtually no support from his teammates today. LeBron James wants to win a championship. The Cavs had 7 years to put together a good supporting cast around him and haven't done it. Its time to move on. If he joins Wade and Bosh in Miami, they could become the greatest NBA team ever. Ever! If LeBron really wants to make a name for himself, being the best player on the greatest NBA team ever is a good way to do it. Some people have written that it would tarnish his legacy or make his championships less impressive. Absurd. Were the Jordan and Pippen championships less impressive? Were the Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul Jabbar championships less impressive? How about the Kobe and Shaq teams? Besides, where would you rather live during the winter... Miami or Cleveland?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Eric Lindros should be in Hall of Fame

Fifteen years ago, I had an Eric Lindros picture taped to a dart board hanging in my room. I couldn't stand him and said "I don't care who wins the Cup as long as HE doesn't." Today, I'm writing a blog post saying why the guy should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Recently, the retired center became eligible and "Puck Daddy" of Yahoo Sports gave Lindros 25-1 odds that he would be part of the 2010 class. Many people feel that he shouldn't ever be in the hall of fame, much less a first time ballot inductee.

When he was 16 years old, Lindros was expected to be the next Mario Lemieux. He wasn't and in the minds of a lot of people, that means he was a bust. I'm sorry, either you're the greatest hockey player of all time or you're a bust? Those are some pretty high standards to live up to. Lindros also managed to make himself hated by all hockey fans throughout his career too. When he was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1991, he said he wouldn't sign with them, forcing Quebec to trade him to Philadelphia. So that pretty much ticked off all of Canada. Then he was playing for a team that everyone hated, the Flyers. He became of the focal point of everyone's hatred for the Flyers. NHL fans cheered against Lindros for years, celebrating every time he got another concussion. On April 1st 1999, Lindros suffered a rib injury that was misdiagnosed by the Flyers team trainer and said he could fly back to Philly the next day. Fortunately, his teammate Keith Jones insisted on taking him to the hospital right away and it turned out to be a collapsed lung caused by internal bleeding. The doctors in Nashville said that if Lindros had listened to the trainer, he would have died. Lindros criticized the team doctors, while Flyers GM Bobby Clarke criticized Lindros and basically called him a wuss. Yeah, Bobby, your franchise player nearly dies and you're calling him a wuss. As if we needed another reason to hate you and your organization. A lot of the Flyers fans however, sided with Clarke and essentially ran Lindros out of town. With Philly fans against him too, he had 100% of hockey fans hating his guts. However, if you can push your hatred aside and take a look at what he did during his career, you'll see that even though he wasn't as good as Mario Lemieux, he was one of the best, if not the best hockey player in the 1990's.

To me, the hall of fame, in all sports, is about honoring the greatest players to ever play the game. In order to become a member, you should have, at some point in your career, been considered the best player in the league during your era. As a 19 year old rookie, he scored 41 goals in just 61 games. In 1995, he tied Jaromir Jagr for the most points in the league and won the Hart Trophy (writers MVP) and Lester B Pearson (players MVP) awards. In 1997, he led the league in playoff scoring and the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 10 years before losing out to the Red Wings. Lindros was a dominating force. In the first 5 years of his career, he averaged 1.47 points per game. To give you just an idea of how good that is, Sidney Crosby averaged 1.36 points per game through his first five seasons and Alexander Ovechkin averaged 1.34 in his first five. After the concussions and other serious injuries, Lindros' career average dropped to 1.14 points per game, which is still pretty impressive. Its still a higher career average than Jarri Kurri, Bryan Trottier, Pavel Bure, Brett Hull, Bobby Hull, Mark Messier, Adam Oates, Gordie Howe, Ron Francis, Rocket Richard, and Luc Robitaille. Just to name a few.

A lot of people believe Lindros shouldn't be in the hall of fame because he was a dirty player and he whined a lot. Ironically, I hear a lot of this from Pens fans that worship Sidney Crosby who is guilty of having those same traits. Eric Lindros was a big guy at 6' 4", 240 lbs. When you're that big and you play for the Flyers, you're going to play physical. As I mentioned in my "Ovechkin vs Crosby" post, when you play a physical type of game, you're going to occasionally cross that line. When you play physical, not all of your hits are going to be clean. Its impossible. The game is too fast. Lindros was the league's best power forward for almost a decade. Using his size to be a great power forward was his strength, but it was ultimately his downfall as well. His physical style of play invited other physical players to take shots at him and being as big as he was, its not like he could get out of the way. Now he took a few big hits because his head was down, but I think it was more of the everyday physicality that destroyed his body and made him injury prone near the end of his career.

People always talk about his injuries when they talk about Lindros and the hall of fame. Injuries were a significant part of Eric's career, however it shouldn't stop him from going to the hall of fame. When he played, he was arguably the best player in the game. He has the MVP trophies to prove it. So he never won a Stanley Cup, once again, as I've stated in previous posts, the number of championships doesn't determine your worth as a player. The Stanley Cup is a team trophy, not an individual one. One person doesn't win the Cup by himself. In his first three playoffs in Philly, Lindros averaged 1.21 points per game. He did everything he could, but Ron Hextall / Garth Snow / Sean Burke and whatever other shooter tutor Philly put in net couldn't stop pucks and this is why Lindros isn't a Stanley Cup champion today.

I understand why people dislike Eric Lindros. I get it. He was physical, he was tough, he was a Flyer. Big E looked like he was going to turn the hated Flyers into the next hockey dynasty and turn 1975 into just another number, but you need to get over it. I disliked him as much as anyone, but its time to let it go. Its been 10 years since he played his last game for the Flyers and its been 3 years since he played his last NHL game. Its time to put that hatred aside, take a look at what he accomplished, take a look at his numbers and come to the only conclusion that makes sense... Eric Lindros is a hall of famer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Tampa Bay Lightning? Y not?

This morning I woke up and checked NHL.com, "Yzerman, Red Wings icon, named Lightning GM". "Damn!", I thought to myself, "it wasn't a dream". Shortly, thereafter I logged onto Facebook, pulled up the Tampa Bay Lightning fan page and clicked "Become a Fan" (or Like). Within minutes my wife posted on my wall "You like the Tampa Bay Lightning?! Come on now..." I thought to myself, Y not?

When the news broke yesterday that my favorite player and legendary Red Wing Steve Yzerman left Detroit to take over as GM for the Tampa Bay Lightning, I couldn't believe what I was reading. Is this a joke? I thought what probably every Wing fan thought at that time they heard the news... "F$%&*$!" While none of us thought this was possible, deep down, we all knew that this was bound to happen. He was going to have to wait a long time to become the GM in Detroit and fresh off his success as the GM for Team Canada in the 2010 Olympics, now was the time. What a great situation to go into too. The Lightning have some really good, young, talented players to build around. Guys like Steven Stamkos (age 19), Victor Hedman (age 18), and Vinny Lecavalier (age 29). The Bolts have a new owner, Jeff Vinik, who has deep pockets and a commitment to winning. Plus, you get to live in sunny beautiful Florida year round! What more could you ask for? While it hurts us Red Wings fans to see him leave our franchise, most of us will continue to cheer on The Captain as GM for the Tampa Bay Lightning. A good number of Wings fans have already said that Tampa Bay will be their second favorite behind the Wings. So get ready Lightning, your fan base is about to get very big, very fast.

A few Wings fans that didn't take the news so well said things like, "I hope the Lightning do terrible, so they'll fire him (Yzerman) and he'll come back here" and "I hope he doesn't tarnish his name trying to save this cheesy Mickey Mouse franchise". First, hoping that a guy that spent 27 years of his life turning your team in a winner fails is ignorant. Plain and simple. Second, no team starts off as the Detroit Red Wings. Everybody starts off as a "cheesy Mickey Mouse" franchise. Who took the NY Yankees seriously before Babe Ruth? Who took the 49ers seriously before Joe Montana? Who took the Penguins seriously before Mario Lemieux? Everybody starts off as this franchise that everybody points and laughs at. Then that one guy shows up, leads you to greatness and changes everyone's perception forever. Yzerman can do that with the Lightning. He can take them from being this unpopular Florida based hockey team and turn them into the Red Wings of the Eastern Conference. He has the smarts, he has the support and he has the young stars to build around.

I also think its very ironic that Yzerman went to Tampa Bay. The Wings colors are red and white. The Lightning's colors are blue and black. The exact opposite. Detroit is so far north, its almost in Canada. The Lightning couldn't be farther south. The best player on the Lightning is a 19 year old, right handed shooting, first round pick named Steve that was given the task to not only perform, but to renew interest in this hockey club. Wasn't Yzerman given that exact same assignment 27 years ago? Steven Stamkos also wears the numbers 1 and 9 on his back, except in the reverse order (91). The Bolts also have a young 18 year old Swedish defenseman named Victor Hedman that is supposed to be one of the next great defensemen in the game. Its like Yzerman went to the bizarro Red Wings. Everything is so similar yet different.

Its a very exciting time for Steve Yzerman and it should be an exciting time for his loyal fans. Yzerman and the Lightning have a lot of work to do, but they are on the cusp of something great. O CAPTAIN! my Captain! Good luck with your new team and us Wings fans will be there to cheer you on every step of the way!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ovechkin vs Crosby: Part 1

Every great sport has its rivalries. Sometimes its between teams, players, colleges, coaches, fans. The NHL is blessed with a great rivalry right now between Washington Capitals franchise winger, Alexander Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins crown jewel, Sidney Crosby. Two great players, but only one can be called "the best". Its fine to say you like one more than the other, but don't go saying one is BETTER than the other because of that liking. I think its just amazing how Crosby fans will ignore the numbers and just say, "Crosby's the best". It seems like everyday now I get into an argument with someone about "Who's better? Crosby or Ovechkin?". Its funny because last year Crosby wasn't even mentioned in the "Who's the best?" discussion. It was "Malkin or Ovechkin?". Crosby wasn't even a consideration. But now, I get some Pens fan trying to justify his or her position with lame arguments that Crosby is the best. Take off your black and gold glasses for a few minutes and look at these facts:

FACT: Ovechkin and Crosby were both rookies in 05-06. Crosby had Lemieux, Palffy, LeClair, Recchi, and Gonchar. Ovechkin had Dainius Zubrus and Jeff Halpern. Ovie did better and beat out Crosby for the Calder Trophy which goes to the league's top rookie.

FACT: Ovechkin and Crosby finished with the same number of points this year (109), while Sid had just one more goal. Crosby also played in 9 more games than Ovechkin. I'm quite certain that if Ovie had played in those 9 games, he would not only have more goals and points than Crosby, but he would've won the Art Ross for a second time.

FACT: Both have one Art Ross trophy

FACT: Ovechkin has 2 Hart Trophies as the league MVP, Crosby has just 1.

FACT: Ovechkin has 2 Lester B. Pearson Awards (which goes to the league MVP voted by the NHLPA). Crosby has just 1.

FACT: Ovechkin also owns 2 Rocket Richard Trophies as the top goal scorer in the league. He wasn't a co-champion either like Crosby is this year with Steven Stamkos.

FACT: 2 is a greater number than 1

I do expect the Hart Trophy numbers to be evened up this year when the awards are given out though. The winner of the Hart Trophy is determined by a panel of hockey writers aka the hockey media. The same media that is ramming Sidney Crosby down our throats every chance they get. A good portion of that media is from Canada. Who do you think they'll vote for? Their fellow Canadian that scored the "Golden Goal" in the Olympics or the "dirty Russian"? They're already saying "this is going to the player that's most valuable to their team" which is what they say whenever their opinion doesn't match the stats. This wouldn't be the first time this happened though. In 88-89, Wayne Gretzky won the Hart over Mario Lemieux, despite the fact that Mario had 31 more goals, was a +15 better and played in 2 less games than the "Great One". What did exactly did Wayne do that year? He got traded to the LA Kings and got married. The Hart is more of a media popularity contest than it is an actual award based on talent.

Despite all of these FACTS, people persist that Crosby is a better player:

"Sid's a more complete player. He plays defense." - First off, let me just say that in today's game, you don't rack up over 100 points AND play defense. Coming from someone who's watched a lot of Wings games with players like Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Yzerman, Fedorov... neither of these guys play defense. I don't recall either of them laying down to block a shot or back check on every shift. However, between the two of them, Ovechkin is better defensively. No, that's just not my opinion either. Let's consult the numbers shall we... This year, Crosby is a +15. Ovechkin is a +45. Both have the same number of points and both have about the same number of power play points. So it seems to me that opponents are scoring a heck of a lot more when Crosby's on the ice than when Ovie is. Sooo, how is it Crosby is better defensively? Isn't defense about keeping the puck out of your own net?

"Ovechkin plays in the weak Southeast, while Crosby plays in the tough Atlantic" - The same "weak" Southeast division that produced 2 of the last 5 Stanley Cup champions? Don't get me wrong, the Southeast has its flaws, but people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. The Devils are no where near as good as they were since their last championship in 2003. They've been knocked out of the playoffs in first round in each of the last 3 years. The Rangers haven't been good since '97 when they re-united Gretzky and Messier and even that team was iffy. The Islanders have been in rebuilding mode since 1985. The Flyers are the closest thing to a good team and they have lousy goaltending, inconsistent players and bad coaching.

Here's the 09-10 breakdown:
Crosby vs Atlantic - 1.83 points per game, +14
Ovechkin vs Atlantic - 1.75 points per game, +17
Crosby vs Southeast - 1.10 points per game, -7
Ovechkin vs Southeast - 1.52 points per game, +10

It seems to me that both got big numbers in that "tough" Atlantic division and didn't do quite as well in the "weak" Southeast division.

"(After Canada beats Russia in the Olympics) Once again Crosby proves he's better than Ovechkin" - Huh?? First off, neither of them scored a point in that game. Second, Team Canada is MUCH stronger than Team Russia. Canada has a Hall of Fame goalie, one of the best coaches in the NHL and all-stars on their 4th line. Russia had players from the KHL. You really can't compare two individual players based on the outcome of a game between two teams, especially when those two teams are not equal.

"Crosby beat Ovechkin in the '09 playoffs, so he's better" - Crosby's team did beat Ovechkin's team in a 7 game series where it all boiled down to one game. A game in which Caps rookie goalie Semyon Varlamov, who was playing in just his 19th career NHL game, came unglued and gave up 4 goals on 18 shots. While playoff battle tested Marc-Andre Fleury just gave up 2 goals on 21 shots. What exactly did Ovechkin have to do with Varlamov's meltdown? The Penguins team was better that day. It had nothing to do with Ovechkin vs Crosby. Its not like Crosby out produced Ovechkin. In fact, Ovechkin slightly outproduced Crosby in the series. Crosby finished with 8 goals and 5 assists, Ovie with 8 goals and 6 assists. Crosby's team was better than Ovechkin's so that makes him a better player? Ovie's great, but he can't score, play goalie and coach. The Caps have the same problem the Red Wings did prior to 1997. They're not built for playoff hockey. The Penguins on the other hand, are built for playoff hockey. This doesn't make Crosby better than Ovechkin, it makes him lucky to be with a franchise that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs.

"Crosby has a Cup and Ovechkin doesn't" - This is like when people said Gretzky was better than Lemieux because he had 4 Cups and Lemieux had zero. It was ridiculous then and its ridiculous now. Gretzky played on a team that was stacked with talent, while Lemieux had to pretty much do everything himself. The same can be said here. Crosby's team is loaded with high end talent. Malkin (2nd overall pick), Fleury (1st overall pick), Staal (2nd overall pick), all high draft picks. Ovechkin has Semin (13th overall), Varlamov (23rd overall) and Backstrom (4th overall). If Crosby and Ovechkin switched places, Ovie would have a Cup (maybe more) and Crosby would have zero. This is the weakest argument a Crosby supporter can make. Kris Draper has 4 Cups, does that make him better than Crosby?

"Ovechkin always chokes in the playoffs" - Oh really? In 28 career playoff games, Ovie has 20 goals, 20 assists, and a +14. He owns a 1.43 points per game average in the playoffs which is actually better than his regular season average of 1.34 points per game. So if anything, he's actually BETTER in the playoffs. Crosby averages 1.36 points per game in the regular season and 1.32 in the playoffs.

"Crosby always beats Ovechkin everytime they meet up" - That was true in the beginning. Back when both were non-playoff rebuilding teams, the Pens beat the Caps many times. Something like 10 out of 11 times. However, since both became elite teams, those numbers have really changed. The Penguins and the Capitals have played each other 15 times (including the playoffs) in the last two years. The Caps have won 10 of those games.

"(After the Capitals lost Game 7 to the Canadiens) Who's the best player in hockey?? Crosby!!" - Wait... what? How does the Capitals losing to the Canadiens make Crosby better than Ovechkin? I'm confused. Is it because Penguins won their series and the Caps lost theirs? The Capitals ran into white hot goalie, Jaroslav Halak. A guy that took Team Slovakia to new heights just a few months ago in the Olympics. The Pens played against shooter tutor Brian Elliot. However, Pens fans spoke too early though because the Pens played against the same Montreal Canadiens team that knocked Ovie out of the playoffs and also lost. Well almost the same. The worn out Canadiens, who had one day off in between the two series, lost the services of their best defenseman Andrei Markov in Game 1 against the Penguins. Let's take a look at the numbers, shall we?

Ovechkin vs the Canadiens
5 goals, 5 assists, 10 points, +5 in 7 games

Crosby vs the Canadiens (minus Andrei Markov)
1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points, -1 in 7 games

Crosby and Malkin vs the Canadiens
2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points, -3 in 7 games

Ovechkin not only did better than Crosby, but he did better than both Crosby and Malkin combined! It should also be noted that Crosby's lone goal came in Game 6, which also just happened to be the game Hal Gill didn't play in. Ovechkin also had a goal disallowed on a bogus goaltender interference call.

"You just don't like Crosby because he beat your Red Wings!" - My dislike for Crosby, a player that used to be one of my favorites, actually started at the end of Game 4 of the 2008 Finals. After the Wings had taken a 3-1 lead in the series, Crosby skated over to the Wings as they were heading into the locker room, got into Henrik Zetterberg's face and started talking trash. About 10 minutes prior to this disgraceful act, Zetterberg had stopped Crosby on the doorstep of the goal on a 5-3 powerplay. Apparently being shutdown at a critical point in the game (and series) offended the Sid the Kid. That was the first of many classes moves by Crosby and he lost me as a fan. The result of the '09 Finals was irrelevant. Regardless of the outcome of that series, I would not like Crosby today. As it relates to this blog post, I have always said that Ovechkin is a better player than Crosby. Even before the Pens and Wings played against one another and I was a Crosby fan...

"..Ovechkin in my opinion is the best player in hockey (sorry Sid). Ovechkin is the Mario Lemieux of the NHL right now, while Sid is the Gretzky. I always said Lemieux was better so I have to stick with my guns here. "
- Fantasy Friday chat transcript
Friday, January 25, 2008
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08025/852218-61.stm

A lot of people will say that Ovechkin is classes or dirty for some of his big hard hits. Ovie plays a physical game and there's a fine line between being physical and being dirty. When you play physical style, sometimes you are going to cross that line. Its unavoidable. Its funny though, Pens fans didn't have a problem with Ulf Samuelsson being physical and sometimes crossing that fine line into "dirty" when he was matched up with Cam Neely in '91 and '92. Nor did they have a problem with Francois Leroux when he knocked out Pat LaFontaine and pretty much ended his career.

I believe the root of the problem here is that most Pens fans don't know an era in which they didn't have the best player in hockey. Let's face it, how many Pens fans today, were fans before 1985? Whether it was Lemieux or Jagr, the Penguins were considered to have the best player in the league for close to 20 years. Today, they have two great players in Malkin and Crosby and cannot accept the fact that there's someone out there that's better and that they don't have the best player in the league. Ovechkin is better than Crosby. Its an air tight case. You can argue this point all you want, but you'll be wrong. Who knows, maybe 5 years from now, things will be different. Maybe Crosby will have more goals, points, wins, Cups, trophies, whatever, but as of right now, it is undeniable that Alexander Ovechkin, the Great Eight, is better than Sid the Kid.