Monday, December 7, 2009

SteelerNATION spoiled

So yesterday the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their fourth straight game and it was at home to the lowly Oakland Raiders.  This loss drops the Steelers to 6-6 and puts their playoff hopes in jeopardy.  While it is tough to see the Steelers lose to bad teams that they should crush like Oakland, KC, Cincinnati and Chicago, nothing will ever change the fact that this team won the Super Bowl just one year ago.  Ben Roethlisberger is still an elite level quarterback. Rashard Mendenhall is justifying the first round pick the Steelers spent on him last year with his strong play.  Santonio Holmes is having a breakout season we expected.  Mike Wallace is a great 3rd receiver as a rookie and will only get better as time goes on.  The defense, although shaky at times, is still better than most defenses in the league and has the stats to back it up.  This team will remain one of the better teams in the league for years to come yet listen to the talk shows.  Read the newspaper. Read message boards.  You would've thought the Steelers lost their 16th game of the season.  All you'll find is dumb beer drinking yinzers whining about how lousy the team is, that Mike Tomlin needs to be fired and that the Steelers should tear apart the franchise and rebuild from the ground up.  Unbelievable.

The Steelers have been one of the NFL's most successful franchises over the past 17 years which includes 12 playoff appearances, 10 division championships, 7 AFC Championship appearances, 3 Super Bowl appearances and 2 Lombardi Trophies.  Some franchises don't have those kind of credentials after 40 years, let alone 17.  Unfortunately, with that success the Steelers now have a legion of fickle bandwagon fans that "bleed black and gold"... as long as they're winning.  There's nothing more frustrating than having to cheer side by side with someone that will turn their back on the team the minute things don't go their way.  Some of them will complain about the coaching and demand that "Mike Tomlin be fired immediately".  In his first two full seasons as the Steelers head coach the Steelers have won two division titles, led the league in defense and won a Super Bowl.  Yes, that's right yinzers.  Those of you that have had too many Iron City's probably don't remember the fact that the Steelers won the Super Bowl just 10 months ago.  Not 10 years, 10 months.  But that doesn't matter right?  You and all three of your remaining brain cells think that Tomlin needs to be fired, the defense (which ranks 1st against the run and 5th in total yards) needs to be rebuilt and something needs to be done with this Ben "Roethenburger" guy, all because the Steelers lost a few more games than expected this year.  

I keep hearing yinzers refer to the Steelers as a "bad" football team.  You think this team is bad?  When I first started watching football (1986) Mark Malone was their quarterback.  For a bit, I thought he was pretty good.  I mean, he completed one out of every three or four passes.  Then I saw other QB's in the league and how their passes would actually be to a receiver and not 10 feet over their heads or hit the ground 5 yards in front of them.  They lost three games very badly that year, 30-0 to Seattle, 31-7 to Minnesota and 34-0 to New England.  Funny... I don't recall anyone calling for Chuck Noll's head after that season and he hadn't won a Super Bowl in 7 years.  The reason for this is because their wasn't any bandwagoners at this time.  Just REAL Steeler fans.  They went 8-7 in '87, 5-11 in '88 and those were some pretty brutal teams.  I always roll my eyes when I hear some yinzer bashing Ben for a bad play.  Clearly, they never watched the legendary quarterback that went by the name of "Bubby".  Take the worst game you've ever seen Ben play.  Now imagine him playing like that week in, week out for three years.  When you've suffered through the Mark Malone / Bubby Brister days, a guy that occasionally throws a bad pass doesn't seem so bad.  It didn't really matter though, no offense was going to be able to keep up with the number of points the defense was giving up.  They were ranked 28th in 1988 and and 22nd in 1991.  Today, they're ranked 5th despite injures to Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith, but you're right yinzer nation, the defense needs blown up and rebuilt because despite having the number one ranked defense in each of the last two seasons before this one, they've clearly lost it now.

SteelerNATION has been spoiled over the last 17 years and unfortunately a good number of us have forgotten how to lose.  Losing a few games, no matter who its against, is not the end of the world.  Whether or not they make the playoffs this season is irrelevant.  This core group of players has proven twice now that they are a Super Bowl caliber team and will make a lot more noise in the years to come.  If the Steelers are not a good franchise, then nobody is.  You can't win all the time.  Losing happens to everyone and all you can do is suck it up and deal with it.  If you can't, then don't watch sports because no one can win all the time.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Factoring In: 10/22/2009

- So the Bears signed franchise QB Jay Cutler to a huge contract extension that means he will be with the team through the 2013 season. Not a bad move considering its been since... well since Sid Luckman in the 1940's that the Bears have had a franchise QB. But is Jay Cutler a franchise QB? Don't get me wrong, he's good. He has a rocket arm and pretty good accuracy, but is he good enough to deserve this much. Have the Bears seen enough of Cutler to know he's their guy? I've always said that Chicago is where NFL quarterbacks go to die. The only thing worse than having a lousy quarterback is having one that is sucking up a lot of salary cap space and not making an impact as big as his contract. In Week One, Cutler was picked off 4 times. The 4th one coming in the final minute of the game with Green Bay sitting back in prevent defense and the game on the line. A few weeks later he barely passed for over 100 yards at home against the Lions. Just this past week, Cutler was in a similar situation to Week One where he was facing a prevent defense in Atlanta and needed to score a TD in the final minute. Once again, he failed. To me a franchise QB drives down the field in that situation and scores. I don't want to hear, "He doesn't have the receivers". A franchise QB finds a way to get it done with or without great receivers. The Bears are a 3-2 (a 2-3 team if Jeff Reed doesn't miss two FGs) football team right now and I can honestly say I don't think things would be much different if they had kept Kyle Orton instead. Jay Cutler is a good quarterback, no doubt, but is he a franchise quarterback? Well the jury is still out on that one.

- Every year the San Jose Sharks look great in the regular season, get into the playoffs, expect to go far and choke. Joe Thornton is one of the best playmakers in the game and his numbers have steadily dropped since overpaid flash in the pans like Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek were placed on his line. Wisely, the Sharks get rid of the excess baggage trade them to Ottawa and get disgruntled superstar Dany Heatley in return. Thornton and Heatley make up one of the most dangerous combos in the league today. However, this is the response I read from Sharks fans: "When Heatley scores, I'll cheer but for the team and not that SOB", "Why did we get this cry baby?", "Heatley is a cancer!". Dany Heatley is a two time 50 goal scorer that led the Ottawa Senators, a team like the Sharks that used to choke in the playoffs every year, to the Stanley Cup Finals. His shot, playmaking ability and hockey smarts makes him one of the most dangerous and underrated players in the game today. Shark fans, you should be thanking the hockey gods every day since the Heatley trade. You have two phenomenal hockey players, in their prime, playing side by side on the same line and you're whining about his past and how he left Ottawa, etc. Who cares? You'll have a lot of excitement, win a ton of games and eventually break through and lead your team to the Finals.

- A couple weeks ago the New York Yankees won a critical Game 2 against the Minnesota Twins in the AL wildcard round. In the top of the 11th inning, Joe Mauer sliced a hit down the left field line, it landed in fair territory, but the umpire made a mistake and called it foul. Had it been called correctly, the Twins would've had at least a two run lead, maybe more. Instead the Yankees got out of the inning and went on to win the game in the bottom of the 11th. A few days ago the umpires made another bad call that favored the Yankees. Neither Jorge Posada nor Robinson Cano were standing on the third base, Angels catcher Mike Napoli tagged both of them, however, for whatever reason, only Posada was called out. In this particular instance, the outcome of the game was not affected as the Yankees won 10-1, but the media is going crazy saying its the "worst call ever in all of sports". First off, the worst call in all of professional sports is the "New England Snow Job" back in Jan 2002 when Tom Brady fumbled and the referees said it was an incomplete pass. That bad call not only cost the Raiders the game, but the Patriots went on to win their first Super Bowl in the creation of their "dynasty". But I digress... All of you people that are up in arms about umpires helping the Yankees, get a life. Nobody cares about the Twins. Take a look around, you don't see people wearing Twins hats all over the country. You don't see people talking about the Twins as being one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. If the Twins managed to knock out the Yankees in the first round, it would have been a tragedy for baseball. The Yankees have the history, the superstars, the stories, and the interest of most the country. Whether its to cheer for them or against them, people watch when the Yankees are involved. If the Twins made it to the ALCS you would've heard this loud unified clicking sound. It would've been the sound of America changing the channel and no longer caring about baseball. As for the Angels, one bad call doesn't put the Yankees up 3 games to 1 on the Angels. So quit whining about a call that had no effect on the series, get that rally monkey off his ass and start praying for a big comeback.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Steelers > Patriots: Get over it

I was watching the CBS NFL pregame show yesterday and Boomer Esiason was asked "Which team would be better head to head? The Steelers or the Patriots?" and without much hesitation, Boomer said the Patriots. Why? Tom Brady. Its the answer everyone in the media gives whenever asked about the Patriots.

Who will win the Super Bowl?
The Patriots
Because of Tom Brady
What about the aging defense?
Tom Brady
What about the poor offensive line and the lack of a running game?
Tom Brady
What about...
Tom Brady

I'm sick of it! Enough is enough! Its been 5 years since the Patriots won their last championship and the media still talks as if we're in the middle of their dynasty. Ben Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls since the last time Brady held the Lombardi trophy, yet every year, its "the Patriots are the favorites because they have Tom Brady". Instead of just blindly throwing out the name "Tom Brady" when asked about the Patriots, actually take a good long look at the team around him. Lets compare the Steelers and Patriots as they are right now:

Ben Roethlisberger vs Tom Brady:
Brady is a great QB. He owns the record for TD passes in a single season. He won three Super Bowls, two SB MVPs awards and was the league MVP once. But right now, he's a great pocket passer, that can't really move that well and his offensive line is old, slow and isn't doing a good job of protecting him. Meanwhile, Ben is a playmaker. If he's given time to sit in the pocket, he'll kill you. If the pocket collapses, he can run around, make a big play and kill you that way. Pick your poison. I'm not going to go as far as to say that Roethlisberger is better than Brady right now, but he's pretty close. Advantage: Tie

Steelers RBs vs Patriots RBs:
The Steelers running game has gotten bad over the past couple years, but its better than the non-existent one of the Patriots. Brady has thrown the football 100 times so far this season. For you math majors out there, that means he's throwing an average of 50 passes per game. Who could blame them though? The offensive line gets virtually no push and the guys handling the ball are an over the hill Fred Taylor and a never will be Laurence Maroney. Meanwhile the Steelers have Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, and Mewelde Moore who are all victims of a poor offensive line, but should that line suddenly get better, these guys are a much better option than what's in New England. Advantage: Steelers

Steelers WRs vs Patriots WRs:
Randy Moss is one of the best in the game today and Wes Welker is a great underneath receiver that makes a lot of tough catches in heavy traffic. On the other side we just have a couple of Super Bowl MVP's. Holmes is really breaking out since the Steelers have decided to pass more and Hines Ward is the toughest receiver in the NFL and nobody makes tougher catches in heavy traffic better than him. The Patriots have a decent third receiver with Joey Galloway, while the Steelers have a great TE in Heath Miller. Really tough to decide this one. Advantage: Tie

Steelers OL vs Patriots OL:
What can you say about these guys? Neither can open holes for the running game. Neither can protect the quarterback that well. Advantage: Tie

Steelers DL vs Patriots DL:
Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren and Jarvis Green are good, but they're not Casey Hampton, Brett Kiesel and Aaron Smith. Hampton is probably the best nose tackle in the game and Kiesel and Smith are very difficult to contain and open up a lot for their linebackers. Advantage: Steelers

Steelers LBs vs Patriots LBs:
Ha!!! This isn't even close. The NFL defensive player of the year James Harrison, tackling leader and big run stopper James Farrior and two young dynamic LB's that get better each week Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. Adalius Thomas is the only good LB on the Patriots defense. No question who's better here. Advantage: Steelers by a lot

Steelers secondary vs Patriots secondary:
This is something that the Patriots keep patching together and it ends up working out, but I think ole Bill Belicheat is out of duct tape. They have never really been that impressive since Ty "I'm allowed to commit pass interference" Law left. The Steelers on the other hand have a great shutdown corner with Ike Taylor and the best saftey combo in the league by far with heavy hitting (just ask Wes Welker) Ryan Clark and the tasmanian devil Troy Polamalu. Not even close. Advantage: Steelers

You can feel free to dispute this, but you'd be wrong. The Patriots are a shadow of the team that won the Super Bowl in '04 and the '07 seems just as distant. They've lost a lot of key components; Mike Vrabel, Teddy Bruschi, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Asante Samuel and they've been replaced by garbage. Defense wins championships and the holes on the New England defense is why they haven't won one in 5 years.

So while the media keeps boasting Tom Brady this and Tom Brady that, reality will definitively show the world that Tom Brady is NOT the answer to everything.

Monday, August 31, 2009

2009 Super Bowl Prediction

At this time every year, every sports media outlet comes out with their "Super Bowl Predictions" and about a month into the season, most of those predictions are blown out of the water. If you want a good laugh, check out the Sporting News prediction for this upcoming season. Yes, the same Sporting News that predicted a Charlie Batch lead Lions team would win the SB one year. Lots of people picked the Patriots to win it all last year. Then Brady got injured... the end. The Steelers had the toughest schedule in football in '08 and were a 10-6 team in '07. They go on to win the Super Bowl. Predicting who's going to win the Super Bowl is like trying to predict the weather without any equipment. There's too many variables to be able to accurately predict something so unpredictable... but that doesn't mean I won't try. So without further ado, I'm going to make my SB XLIV prediction.

AFC East: The Jets regressed from Favre to a rookie QB, the Dolphins won't take anyone by surprise this year although they are headed in the right direction and the Bills are still the Bills. The Patriots win this division by default.

AFC North: This will be Brady Quinn's "get used to the league" year, so the Browns will be bad, but at least they're progressing. The Bengals will show the league for another year why no one takes them seriously. The Ravens will be a tough team, as always and if Flacco can build off what he did last year, they'll be a great team once again. However, the defending SB champion Steelers are still the class of the division and should claim the division title.

AFC West: You have to love this division. It was won by the Chargers last year via a tie breaker with the Broncos. Both teams were 8-8. The Chargers should be better this year. LT is healthy, Shawne Merriman is back while the rest of the division has gotten worse. The Broncos traded away their franchise QB for a serviceable starter. The Chiefs haven't changed much except for their coaching staff and QB. The Raiders continued their tradition of wasting high draft picks on "reaches", "projects" and "busts".

AFC South: Don't expect the Titans to repeat as division champs this year. They're a good team, but they will not be 13-3 this year. The loss of Albert Haynesworth is a big one. The Colts are the best team in the division, but its going to be a slug fest for the title. The Texans finally look ready to make a big impact with all of their offensive weapons, while the Jaguars feature one of the most versatile back in the game with Maurice Jones-Drew.

NFC East: I keep reading about how great the Giants are and how they're going to return to the Super Bowl. They stumbled through the second half of the season without Plaxico Burress then got knocked out by the Eagles in the playoffs. Without Burress or Toomer, who is Eli Manning supposed to throw to? The Cowboys will not be a better team without TO. Sorry, but they needed him. The Redskins upgraded their defense in a big way with Albert Haynesworth, but their offense is still boring and they're not going anywhere with Jason Campbell. The Eagles were the hottest team in the league at the end of the season and into the playoffs last year and playoff performances always seem to act as a precursor of things to come in the next year. The Eagles will take the NFC East.

NFC North: Vikings and Lions and Bears, oh my! Oh yeah and the Pack too. The Lions are in for another long season, but it won't be an 0-16 season. The Packers always bore me, but they're dynamic offense and Dom Capers led defense could make a lot of noise this year. This division race will be between two teams, the Vikings and the Bears. The Bears drastically upgraded their QB and the defense is still solid, but the Vikings have the best RB in the game today, the best offensive and defensive lines and now have Brett Favre. Even if Favre is average, it'll be better than what they've had over the last several years.

NFC West: This is the division everyone likes to have on their schedule. The Cardinals, Seahawks, 49ers, and Rams. Ironically enough though, each of these teams have played in the Super Bowl in the last 15 years. So it can't be that soft right? The 49ers are getting better, but very very slowly. Too bad that Alex Smith didn't pan out else they would be there already. The Rams are clearly in a rebuilding phase. The Seahawks are clinging to their 2005 SB team and are slowly getting worse. The Cardinals made it to the SB last year and have a cupcake schedule this year. As long as Warner stays healthy, the Cards will romp through this division.

NFC South: This will be the toughest division to pick. The Saints have the most explosive offense in the game, but still no defense. The Bucs have a HUGE hole at QB although their RB situation is the best its been in a long time. I like the Panthers, but I have serious doubt about Jake Delhomme after watching him meltdown in the playoffs. The best team in the division coming into the year is the Atlanta Falcons. As long as Matt Ryan doesn't suffer from a sophomore slump, they should come out on top in the division.

AFC Playoff Seeding:

NFC Playoffs Seeding:

Wild Card Round:
Chargers over Texans
Ravens over Colts
Eagles over Giants
Bears over Falcons

Divisional Round:
Patriots over Ravens
Steelers over Chargers
Vikings over Bears
Eagles over Cardinals

Conference Championships:
Steelers over Patriots
Vikings over Eagles

Super Bowl XLIV:
Steelers over Vikings

Go ahead, call me a homer, but I think the Steelers are one of the more complete teams in the game today. Best defense in the league and one of the best playoff QBs I've ever seen. The Steelers have a great shot at repeating as SB champs and if they do, they'll have as many SB championships as the Patriots in this decade leaving us with, "Who is the team of the decade? The Steelers or the Patriots?" But the people that know football, already know the answer to that question. Hint: It's not the team that got caught cheating.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Factoring In 8/28/2009

- Its being reported that Brett Favre's arrival to the Minnesota Vikings is causing problems within the team. Basically some people are happy to have him, while others would rather go with Sage Rosenfels or Tavaris Jackson. Look, I don't like how Favre acted like he was going to join the team, then re-retired, only to come back half way through the preseason and become the unquestioned starter either. However, to stand up for the Texans former backup QB or T-Jack, against one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game is foolish. This isn't like last year when the Jets discarded Chad Pennington for Favre. The Vikings QB position is sore spot on the team and has been for a number of years. Sports is all about winning. Its not about lessons or hurt feelings, its about winning. Brett Favre at age 40 is better than Rosenfels and Jackson in their prime. Brett Favre gives the Vikings the best chance to win a Super Bowl. Brett Favre is going to be their starting QB whether they like it or not so they may as well stop whining and focus on winning.

- Is anyone else as annoyed with Team USA's new hockey uniforms for the 2010 Olympics as I am? I'm all for nostalgia, but if you want to have a throw back jersey, just make it the third jersey, not your primary uniform. The light and dark jerseys are the boring and unimaginative. Now they do have a third jersey, that really appeals to the New York Rangers fans since its basically a carbon copy of their white away jersey, but to the rest of us its garbage. It was like the designers were sitting around at a table and one of them said, "Hey! Who's a red, white and blue team in the NHL?" Someone else says, "The Rangers!". "Perfect, we'll just use their uniforms, remove "Rangers" and put on "USA". That wasn't so hard!" I just feel bad for Scott Gomez who thought he would never have to wear that uniform again.

- The future of Chicago Blackhawks franchise is riding on the young, super talented winger, Patrick Kane and he beats up a cab driver over 20 cents... soak that in for a second. A player that will sign a contract next summer that will make him a multi-millionaire. A player that is the face of EA Sports' NHL 10. A player with a very bright future ahead of him, pleaded guilty to the charge of disorderly conduct and was ordered to send an apology to the cab driver he was accused of roughing up over 20 cents. 20 cents!! You can find quarters laying on the street! There's people making dumb decisions while their young and then there's this.

- Former Steelers wideout Plaxico Burress has done a lot of dumb things. Spiking the ball after a catch BEFORE your tackled, leaving the Steelers right before they win 2 Super Bowls, driving without insurance and getting into an accident, but none of them were as big as when he shot himself with his own unregistered gun. He was charged with reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon. He'll now go to jail for two years with an additional two years of supervised release. So let me get this straight, Michael Vick can fund a dog fighting operation, assist in the brutal deaths of losing dogs and gets only 23 months in prison. Plaxico shoots himself and gets 24 months. Maybe its just me, but being stupid and accidently shooting yourself with a gun is no where near as bad as knowingly and purposely killing dogs in a savage manner.

- Speaking of Vick, the played in his first game last night to standing ovation from the Eagles faithful. So Philadelphia boos Santa Claus, pelts JD Drew with D batteries, booed Donovan McNabb on draft day, cheers for an ex-con. I would ask what's wrong with this picture, but then I think to myself, "Its Philadelphia". That pretty much explains it all right there.

-My favorite MLB team, the New York Yankees, have the best record in baseball, a 6 game lead on the Red Sux, and have as good of a chance as anyone to win the World Series... and I could care less. I watch SportsCenter to see if the Yankees won and if they did, I smirk a little, if they lose, I dismiss it quickly. With football revving up and hockey right around the corner, baseball season is already over. When the World Series is being played, I'll watch if the Yankees are in it, but if they're not and there's a hockey game between the Rangers and the Wild on, I'll watch the latter.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Factoring In 08/10/2009

- Despite owning a black Michael Vick Falcons jersey, I'm not a big fan of him. In fact, I think he's an idiot. He threw away everything and for what? Dog fighting. It makes me sick to think about what he did to those dogs and if it were up to me, I would've thrown his ass in jail for life. But its not up to me and now Vick is back and looking to get back into the NFL. Despite my dislike for him as a person, he is a great football player and can single handily turn a loser into a championship caliber team. He already did it once with the Falcons. People forget that he took a 5-11 Falcons team in 2003, turned them around into a 11-5 team in 2004 and led them to the NFC championship game and pretty much did it all by himself. In order to be successful in anything you do, you need to be willing to do whatever it takes. The people that are willing to do whatever it takes, will always have an advantage over the people that are not. Nothing Vick did off the field should be considered when making football decisions. He is an exciting, 3 time Pro Bowl quarterback and if I was running an NFL franchise and my QB position was in bad shape (like a lot of teams are), I would've been trying to acquire him the second he stepped out of the jail.

- "Super Bowl Champion Peyton Manning is the highest paid player in football". That seems about right. Three time MVP, threw for over 4000 yards 9 times, threw 30+ TDs 4 times in his career. How about if I change one word in it? "Super Bowl Champion Eli Manning is the highest paid player in football". What?? So let me get this straight. A guy that has never won an MVP award or passed for more than 4000 yards in a season or thrown more than 24 TD passes is the highest paid player in football? What a complete waste of money! He's a solid quarterback, but highest paid player in football? Really Giants? Really? You know just because the Yankees spend like there's no tomorrow doesn't mean you can. There IS a salary cap. Instead of wasting that money on Eli, maybe they could have saved some of it and acquired a wide receiver to replace Plaxico Burress. This is simply wasteful and careless on the part of the Giants and it will bite them in the ass down the line.

- So "Big Papi" David Ortiz was outed for performance enhancing drugs. He appeared on the 2003 list of players that tested positive for drugs. I have been saying for 5 years now that Ortiz was on something and people looked at me like I just swore at the Pope. In 2002, good hitter, but by no means anything special. By 2004, he was giant, power hitting MVP candidate. Take a look at Ortiz prior to 2003 and take a look at him now. Huge difference in body type. Take a look at his numbers. In 2002, he had 20 homers and 75 RBI. After that year, his homerun totals increased fast (31, 41, 47, and 54). Once the league announced that they would punish PED users, his numbers suddenly began to drop, 35 HR in 2006, 23 in '08 and just 15 so far this season. Ortiz also had heart problems last year. According to, heart problems can be a problem for steroid users. Now Ortiz is denying it. After all that's the baseball way. Deny, deny, deny and then when there's a mountain of indisputable evidence against you, you apologize, say you made a mistake and everybody's happy.

- Lots of people have been asking me "What do I think of the Red Wings off season?" expecting me to say "Ohhh we're doomed. We lost Hossa, Samuelsson and Hudler and now we have no one." The Wings won the Cup without Hossa in '08, Sammy has been replaced with Jason Williams, who already knows the Wings system and Patrick Eaves will be every bit as good as Huds, if not better. Plus, the Wings will now get full time contributions from Darren Helm, Jonathan Ericsson and Ville Leino who will be a Calder finalist this upcoming season.

- The New York Yankees own the best record in baseball. They have a $192 million payroll. The Pittsburgh Pirates have the 3rd worst record in baseball. They have a $49 million payroll. Baseball needs a salary cap. Despite there being 30 teams in MLB, in reality there's only about 6-8 teams while everyone else is simply a farm club for them.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pirates starting over... again

I hate to write it. You hate to read it. We hate to experience it... again, but the Pirates are wiping the slate clean and rebuilding. Its not the rebuilding that bugs me as so much as it is the people doing it. When you rebuild, you start with good young players. Guys that will still be around when the rebuilding is complete and you are contending for a championship. What bothers me is every year at this time, the Pirates trade away everyone of any value and you're basically starting from the ground each spring. Rome wasn't build in a day and the Pirates won't be built in one season.

Lets take 2003 for example. That year the Pirates looked pretty decent. They were much better than the 2001 team that finished with an embarrassing 100 loss season. They had two great hitters in the middle of the lineup, Brian Giles and Aramis Ramirez. Pirates fans had heard about the greatness of Ramirez for years and how he was going to be one of the cornerstones of the franchise. In his first full season (2001) he had a big year with 34 HR and 112 RBI. The next year, his numbers dropped a bit due to injuries, but in 2003 he was right back to where he was. Management decided that with the team at 44-53 and 9.5 games out of first, nothing special was on the horizon and decided that they would trade away players. That's fine. Reggie Sanders was a 35 year old journeyman who was swinging a hot bat that year, plenty of teams would love to add him to their lineup for a post season push. Plus, he was playing with just a one year deal anyways. Kenny Lofton was another veteran having a solid year that could be traded for prospects. But instead of trading one of their older expendable players, they trade 25 year old Ramirez! The young cornerstone that you could build around. On July 22nd, 2003 the Pirates threw away a franchise player along with Kenny Lofton to the Cubs, a division rival, and in return received pitcher Matt Bruback (who never made it to the majors), 2B Bobby Hill (who was batting .167 in Triple A at the time) and SS Jose Hernandez who led the league in strikeouts. What a slap in the face. Not only did they trade away a critical piece to the rebuilding process, but they get the worst players the Cubs had in their organization.

So let's fast forward to 5 years later. The team is still bad, but its showing signs of improvement. A 25th round draft pick named Nate McLouth was a godsend. He could hit for contact, hit for power, he was fast, he was good in the field, he was the total package. They also had the X-Man, Xavier Nady showing that he could be counted on to be an everyday outfielder. Catcher Ryan Doumit surprised a lot of people with his power and is one of the better hitting catchers in baseball. Despite not winning a lot of games, this team had a pretty good offensive lineup. Nate McLouth, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady were statistically one of the best outfields in baseball in 2008. Add Doumit and 2006 batting champ Freddy Sanchez to that lineup and 5 out of the 8 position players are pretty good. Just imagine if they had kept Ramirez. I was legitimately interested in the Pirates again. They weren't winning, but they had an offense. Going into the next year, all they would need to focus on is pitching. However, that optimism was short lived. On July 25th 2008, Nady was traded to the Yankees for prospects. Six days later Bay was traded to the Red Sox for more prospects. Then the following year, McLouth is traded to the Braves for prospects. Yesterday, Freddy Sanchez was traded away for prospects. Well, so much for that offense that you could have built around. Now instead of having hitting and no pitching, they have no hitting or pitching.

The few die-hards that are still with the team will argue, "They need prospects.", "Bay's contract was up and they would never be able to afford him", "The farm system is a mess, they needed to do this". Actually no, they need to build a winner! The Pirates have had high draft positions for the last 16 years, if you can't mold high draft picks into big league ball players, why is taking someone else's (questionable) prospects and sticking them in your farm system going to make it better? You had good players on your team. They had something to build around. Trading Bay and getting pretty much nothing in return gives you nothing. Nothing on the big club and nothing in the minors. I will concede that right now, trading Nady and Marte looks like a pretty good deal for the Pirates and I think trading Morgan for Lastings Milledge was a good deal as well. But trading Bay and McLouth was a waste of talent. They traded Bay, their best player and franchise cornerstone, and didn't even get one of the Red Sox best prospects. The same goes for McLouth. The same went for Aramis Ramirez. Could you imagine if they spent the last 7 years just accumulating and holding onto the talent they had instead of "trading it away for prospects"? The Pirates will now attempt to "rebuild" off players that have little or no major league experience. Plus, let's say for instance that all these prospects they acquired do pan out and turn into stars. What evidence is there that would suggest the Pirates will sign them? Its an annual tradition in Pittsburgh to trade away All Stars for more prospects. Why will the Pirates hold onto these players when/if they become stars? They didn't hold onto the other prospects they had that turned into stars. Why will these group of prospects be any different?

To say I'm throwing in the towel because the Pirates traded Sanchez, Wilson and Snell yesterday would be ridiculous and wildly inaccurate. I gave up on this team 6 years ago when the franchise looked every Pirate fan in the eye, said "We don't really care how well this team plays. We just want your money" and traded Aramis Ramirez. Since then, I've cheered for the Pirates to lose 100+ games in hopes that if they get bad enough the die-hards that defend this franchise and their bad moves will turn against the owners, quit going to games and maybe, just maybe, force the owners to either sell the team or stop giving away good players. Albert Einstein described insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." The Pirates have been trading away established talent for prospects for 16 years. The result has always been the same... a losing season. Continuing to do that is, by definition, "insane". I may sound like a frustrated fan, but the truth is, I'm far worse. I'm a former fan that has lost hope in the team and is losing hope in the sport altogether.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How do you solve a problem like Maria-n?

On July 2nd, 2008, my wife picked up my buzzing cell phone as I had just received a text message. It was from my brother and he was cursing out unrestricted free agent Marian Hossa. I figured, "Oh well, I guess he left the Pens. I kind of figured that might happen." Maria continued to read the message saying that Hossa was on the Red Wings. My eyes were wide open with shock, "What?!". Hossa had turned his back on the Penguins for a team that almost everyone in the city hated. Hossa leaving was one thing, but going to the Red Wings was another. The city was outraged, while I was excited to have a top notch talent added to my team.

It made perfect sense. Even before Hossa was traded to the Penguins, he expressed a desire to play in Detroit. The Wings system and his style of play were a perfect fit and his good friend Tomas Kopecky was on the Wings as well. They signed him to a one year deal worth $7.45 mil. With Zetterberg and Franzen set to become free agents in the next off season, I kind of figured that Hossa was on the team for just this year and I was fine with that.

As the season started the addition of Marian Hossa proved to be big for the Wings as they were dealing with a Stanley Cup hangover and the usual dominant Detroit defense was sloppy, creating a lot of high scoring games. Hossa was up to the challenge as he bailed out the team on several occasions. He finished as the teams leading goal scorer with 40 goals (8 game winning) and was becoming a fan favorite. He did everything. He scored, he back checked, he even got into a fight with the Predators Ryan Suter at the Joe Louis Arena to chorus of cheers. The players, coaches and fans were embracing this player that passed up big money elsewhere to come to Detroit and try to win a Stanley Cup.

Despite his actions, Wings GM Ken Holland opened up the franchise checkbook and locked up, future captain, Henrik Zetterberg for life with a 12 year extension and power forward Johan Franzen with an 11 year extension. Fans were a little worried that with the salary cap, this would squeeze Hossa off the team, but Hossa said time and time again that he would be willing to take less to stay with this team and Holland said he would reach out to Marian with the best offer the team could make.

As the playoffs got underway, Hossa looked nothing like his regular season self and looked more like the poor playoff performer he was labeled before going to Pittsburgh. His defense was good, but his offense was non-existent. He scored just 2 goals in each of the first three rounds of the playoffs. Despite his absence on the score sheet, Detroit was able to make it to the Finals for the second straight season and play his former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. In this championship round, Hossa went from being a playoff choker to a playoff joke. No one had more pressure on him in that series, but still he failed to score a single goal in the seven game series as his team lost by one goal in the final game. A crushing loss for the Wings, an even more crushing loss for him as he got to watch his old team hoist the Cup.

I felt bad for the guy. He passes up more money because he wants to win a championship so badly, comes to Detroit and falls just one game short and now his former team and fans gets to rub it in his face. There was always next year though. The team will be more focused, better defensively and will have their hunger back. Ken Holland offered Hossa a deal that would keep him a Red Wing for life. It was somewhere around $4 mil per year cap hit, which means he'd still make around $6 or $7 mil for the first 6 years of the deal, then it would trail off to lower the hit. At that point, he would either retire, get bought out or renegotiate a new deal. For a guy that has expressed such a strong desire to play in Detroit, it seemed like a no brainer. Then it happened. On July 1st, 2009, less than one year after he signed with the Wings, Hossa turns on his old team yet again and joins a team that his old team and fans would hate... the Chicago Blackhawks.

I don't get it. I don't get it from every point of view. I don't understand why he would leave the Wings, a team that he fit in with and came within one game of a championship with, to join the Blackhawks, a team that the Wings beat in 5 games without Datsyuk and Lidstrom. I don't understand it from the Blackhawks angle. They're a good young team with a lot of young superstars whose contracts will be up for renewal at the end of the the 09-10 season. They have their own version of Crosby and Malkin with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. With Hossa's contract on the books for 12 years, they risk losing these players along with a few other good young players. I don't get why Hossa would sign a lifetime deal with a franchise he's never played with before. Typically, if you sign a long term deal like this, you know what you're getting yourself into. In this situation, he doesn't know the city, the management, the coaches, the players, or the system. He could flop right out of the gate. Its a bizarre move for both Hossa and the Blackhawks and another tough loss for the Wings less than a month after suffering a tough loss in the Finals. No, Pens fans, the irony isn't lost on me.

Before July 1st, I said I would support and cheer for Hossa even if he left the Wings because I didn't want to be like the Pens fans were this past season with the hatred towards this nice, quiet, "shys away from confrontation" kind of guy. But blowing off the Wings, to sign with their rivals for just a little more cash... I can't do it. He could have signed with the Kings, Wild, Rangers, Sharks, Bruins, whomever. But the Blackhawks, nope. Can't do it. He's even making the same stupid mistakes this time around as well. When asked why he left Detroit, he said, "They have a chance to win the Cup". Hasn't he learned anything from what just happened to him this past season? Now he gets to play his spurned former team at least 6 times a year for the rest of his career. Will this guy ever learn? Now I along with other Wings fans can join Pens fans in bashing this mercenary that just keeps making one bad decision after another with his career.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why am I a fan of the Detroit Red Wings?

It's the question I've been asked over and over and over again. How can I be a fan of the Detroit Red Wings? What is wrong with me? With the Wings playing against the hometown Penguins in the Finals in each of the last two years, this question has been asked even more frequently. No one can understand WHY. Why would I cheer against my hometown team? How can I be so connected to a franchise that isn't in my hometown? Am I from Detroit? No. Are my parents from Detroit? Nope. Am I Mike Illich's long lost son? Doubtful. In this blog post, I'll answer this question and it'll either help you understand WHY or you'll think I'm completely insane. Either way, you'll never need to ask again.

I was about six or seven years old and my first full football season (that I cared to watch) had just ended. With baseball months away, I still had a hunger for sports and discovered the sport of hockey. I asked my parents what was this game and how come we didn't watch it like we do with football? I was told that the "Penguins suck" and were not worth watching. "Sucky" or not, I was going to feed my hunger with a healthy dose of hockey. I'm pretty sure it was a Friday night since that was the only time the Penguins were on non-cable TV back then and the Penguins were playing at the Joe Louis Arena against the Detroit Red Wings. After just one game, I was a fan of the sport. Lots of speed, shooting, action, hitting and if I remember correctly, lots of scoring too. Both Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman recorded hat tricks (ahhh 80's hockey), but it was the Penguins that came out on top in the end. Being an impressionable kid, I became a huge fan of both Lemieux and Yzerman and their teams. I watched the Penguins every Friday night and listened to Red Wings games here and there on a crackling AM radio station in Detroit that I could barely pick up.

Over the years, hockey became more popular. Around 1994-1995, more and more games were being nationally televised. Finally, I was able to see the Red Wings play someone other than the Penguins. In addition to being able to see them on TV, hockey merchandise, other than Penguins merchandise, became available in sporting goods stores. I remember this one store at Century III mall that had tons of hockey jerseys. I remember looking up at this purple and black Sergei Fedorov Western Conference All Star jersey like it was the Holy Grail. I got everything I could. Red Wings t-shirts, hats, jerseys, etc, to show my support for my other favorite team. As I wore my bright red Wings t-shirt and red hat to school, it became obvious to everyone that I was a Wings fan. That's when it started.

In 94, I wore a Chris Osgood t-shirt/jersey to school pretty often. That year, Chris Osgood had a first round playoff meltdown against the 8th seeded San Jose Sharks and the Wings were bounced in the first round. Boy, did I ever hear about it! You would have thought "I" was Chris Osgood with the amount of verbal abuse I took that spring. "Hey Osgood, you suck!", "Osgood? Its more like Osbad!", "Did you catch that Red Wings game the other night? HA HA!" and the typical "Red Wings suck!" every time I'd walk by. This experience didn't make me less of a Penguins fan, but it made me a much stronger Red Wings fan knowing that everyone I know, my whole world essentially, associates me with that logo, that team, those players. The Wings began to feel like MY team. In 95, the Wings destroyed everyone en route to the Stanley Cup Finals, but were then swept by the Devils. It was a tough loss, but the very next day I proudly wore my Wings t-shirt to school and still showed my support despite all the heckling.

On Friday, January 5th 1996, I got to see the Red Wings in person for the first time as they were in Pittsburgh to play the Pens. It was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. I got to the game early, moved down to the glass and watched the Wings up close during their pre game warm up. To this day I remember Sergei Fedorov flying past me several times during the warm up. I remember I could see individual beads of sweat on Paul Coffey's forehead. I could see the stitchings on the back of Yzerman's jersey. My brother and I were standing right next to Chris Osgood as he stood off to the side while Mike Vernon took a few shots. A slapshot from Dino Ciccarelli missed the net and loudly smacked the glass right near my head, scaring the heck out of me. It was awesome! Before the game everyone was asking me, "Who am I going to root for?". I made a choice and I decided to wear my Penguins jersey to the game and cheer for the Pens. As the game got underway, it felt weird. It felt weird to cheer against a team I have stuck up for, for years. If I remember right, it was a close game going into the second period, then the Pens broke it open. Lemieux and Jagr scored goals and taunts of "Os-good, Os-good" rained down. I was not one of those people as I barely cheered for the Penguin goals. In the third period, Ciccarelli found a lose puck in front and buried it on the backhand. For a brief second, I forgot where I was and who I was "supposed" to be cheering for and nearly jumped out of my seat and cheered. The game ended with the Penguins winning 5-2, but as we left the arena I promised myself, never again. I would never cheer against MY TEAM, under any circumstances.

That year the Wings finished with the greatest single regular season record of all time, but once again fell short in the playoffs getting knocked out by the Colorado Avalanche in 6 games. It was another devastating loss and of course, I had to hear about it at school as if *I* played for the team. That spring/summer, people couldn't talk to me without pretending to "choke". Hilarious. In 97, my senior year of high school, I would get the last laugh. The Wings shook up their roster a bit, got tougher and were built better for the post season. Going into the conference finals, the Wings would have to get past their arch nemesis and my 2nd most hated team, the Avalanche. I missed my senior prom to watch Game 1, which they unfortunately lost 2-1 making that night, that much crappier. But after that, it was all Red Wings. They won 4 of the next 5 games and were headed to the Stanley Cup Finals to play everyone's most hated team, the Philadelphia Flyers who had only lost 2 games in the first three rounds and captain Eric Lindros seemed destined to win his first Stanley Cup. Leading up to the Finals all I heard was how the "Big Invincible Flyers" were going to destroy my "little Russian Red Wings" and that MY TEAM didn't have a chance. The Wings taught me and probably the entire NHL a valuable lesson that year; speed kills. The Wings skated circles around the "big" Flyers and swept them in 4 straight, claiming their first title since 1955. It was a great win for Detroit, the Red Wings franchise, Steve Yzerman and a great graduation present for me as I would get the last laugh at all those jerks I had to put up with over the years. Its so true, whomever does laugh last, laughs best.

The next year, my first year away from home and in college, the Wings did it again. With fallen teammate Vladimir Konstantinov on their minds, the Wings played inspired hockey and triumphed over the Washington Capitals in 4 straight. I don't remember much from that playoff run, but I do remember Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Dallas. I had to get up early for work that day as I was supposed to work from 7am to 3pm. Unfortunately, the person that was supposed to come in at 3pm, didn't so I had to work a double shift. I ended up working till 8:30 or so. I was exhausted, wasn't in the best of moods and the game was starting later because it was in Dallas, but my Wings were one game away from the Finals and I thought, "As long as they win, it won't matter that my day sucked." I put on my red Chris Osgood t-shirt/jersey (since it was a road game and they were wearing red, I had to match) and got ready for the game. The Wings played well and were leading 2-1 in the third period. The Stars scored though, pushing the game into overtime, causing this long day to be even longer. Then it happened... Stars forward Jamie Langenbrunner took a slapshot from center ice and it got past Osgood for the game winning goal. That was it for me. I checked out of this game and this day and checked into Psychoville. After using up a lifetime worth of swear words in the quiet sleeping house, I stomped up the stairs, ripped off my Osgood t-shirt, slammed it into my drawer, punched it a few times and then attempted to go to sleep. Two days later in Detroit, Ozzie played one of the best games of his career and the Wings won 2-0. Not only was all forgiven, but now I felt like an idiot for ever doubting him. From that moment on, no matter how much I want to, I never doubted Osgood again.

The Red Wings wouldn't make it to the Finals again until the 2001-2002 season. In the beginning of the year the Wings made a bold move and acquired All Star netminder Dominik Hasek from Buffalo. When the UFA's saw this move, everyone was flocking to the Wings. Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille passed up big deals with other teams and took less money to play for the Red Wings. Despite all of the star power this team had, they fell behind the 8-ball early in the playoffs. The Canucks won both games in Detroit in the first round and it looked as though this dream team may have a nightmarish ending. During tough times like these, you look to your leader and the Wings had the best one to ever play the game of hockey... Steve Yzerman. He had missed 30 games during the regular season due to a severe knee injury. The doctors told him that if he got surgery, not only would he be done for the year, but as his age, probably his career. Yzerman wouldn't let his guys down and played on the bad knee. Opposing players kept knocking him over, tripping him and each time Yzerman would struggle to get back up, but he did over and over again. Sometimes using his stick as a crutch to get back onto his skates. His gutsy performance inspired this team of veterans, all stars and future hall of famers and brought them together to work towards a common goal. The Wings came back in the series against Vancouver and won 4 games to 2. The team followed their leader through the playoffs and to another Stanley Cup victory. It was the gutsiest, most inspiring performance I have ever seen. Remembering how Stevie sacrificed himself and played through the searing pain, inspires me today to never give up in anything I do, no matter what the circumstances. I think about this whenever our family is going through a tough time too. I think about how its important to have someone lead, keep everyone together and show them that their is always light at the end of the tunnel as long as you're willing to work hard enough to get there.

In 2005, I met the woman of the dreams, Maria. Actually, she's better than the woman of my dreams. She's more than I ever dreamed possible. The two of us fell in love fast and hard. We would do anything for one another. For our first Christmas together, she showed just how far she'd go. My Christmas gift was two tickets to go see the Red Wings at the Joe Louis Arena on New Years Eve! I was FLOORED. "I'm going to Detroit! I'm going to the Joe Louis Arena! I'm going to the Hockeytown Cafe!", I thought to myself. It was the perfect gift from the perfect woman. Then I thought to myself, "Why stop with a Wings game in Detroit? Let's go for it all." A week later, I bought an engagement ring. Not just any engagement ring either, the one she had been salivating over for quite some time. With the excitement of the trip, the game and, of course, the proposal, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We went to Hockeytown Cafe, which was incredible, then to the game. Each of us wearing Red Wings jerseys, we entered the Joe and it was like stepping into a painting. I've seen it in pictures and on TV for years, but finally, I was actually there in person. Its like a Red Wings hall of fame in the corridors and like heaven to me. The game was great! The atmosphere was great. The Wings were playing the Blue Jackets, who had long time Wings star, Sergei Fedorov playing for them, so the crowd was really into it. The Wings scored 5 times, including a Mikael Samuelsson hat trick and they won, 5-2. After the game ended, it was my turn. It was either going to make it the greatest night ever or make it the worst. I thought about proposing to her in the Joe, but I already had a plan and I was too nervous to change things up at this point. Plus, if she's says no it'll taint the JLA forever for me. We got back to the hotel, we watched the ball drop on TV and it was 2006! We kissed for a second then when she turned around to get more champagne, I turned around and grabbed the ring. With me in my Wings jersey and with her in her Wings jersey, I got down on one knee said that I wanted to "start off 2006 with a bang" and asked "Maria Catherine Williams, will you marry me?" She looked at me stunned and said "Are you kidding?" At this point, I was wondering "maybe I should have done it at the Joe. Maybe with all the people around us, it would have forced her to say yes or at the very least prevented me from jumping off the balcony". But Maria immediately followed up with "YES! OF COURSE!". Visit the arena, Wings win and getting engaged. My own personal hat trick was complete!

On December 23rd 2007, almost two years to the day since I visited Detroit, Maria gave birth to our second child and my first boy, Caleb. With my stepson already having a unique middle name, "Aragorn", giving Caleb a unique middle name wasn't out of the question. I picked it, we both discussed it, both agreed and his full name is Caleb Yzerman Fruscello. My family looked at me like I was nuts, but I felt it was perfect. To me, when I hear the name "Yzerman", I think of such words as "leader", "honorable", "classy", "good guy", "unselfish", "loyal", "winner", and "respectful". I want my son to have all of those qualities. But then who wouldn't?

During that same NHL season, the Red Wings made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and would play against, none other than the Pittsburgh Penguins. Of all years for this to happen, it happens the year Caleb was born. It was a hard fought series and my little man was right there with me in the rocking chair watching it. As the thrilling final seconds of that series ticked off the clock, I jumped up and celebrated. It was almost too good to be true. The Red Wings captain who shares the same first name as me, Nick Lidstrom, would pick up the Stanley Cup in the Mellon Arena, two minutes away from the hospital Caleb Yzerman was born in just 6 months ago. It was the greatest sports moment of my life and I don't think any championship will ever be able to top it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but in my warped perception of reality, it was like the Red Wings were winning the Cup in Pittsburgh for my son. Years from now, I cannot wait to take him to the Joe, point up to the rafters and show him the "2007-2008 Stanley Cup Champion" banner and say "They won that in Pittsburgh the year you were born."

This year with the Stanley Cup rematch, things didn't quite work out the way I had hoped. We fell one game short, but that's how things go sometimes and how you deal with those kind of disappointments says a lot about you as a person. It hurts, but it doesn't hurt any more or less than when they lost to the Ducks two years ago or to the Oilers three years ago. A loss is a loss and it sucks no matter how or when it happens. Now its time to look ahead to next year and think about how exciting it will be to watch the Wings go after another title.

When the Penguins lost last year people would come up to me and ask "So are you happy the Penguins lost?" to which I replied, "No... I'm happy the Red Wings won." I made a point not to "rub it in" as I know how bad losing can feel. I didn't print out any pictures of the Wings with the Cup and tape it on my desk. I didn't talk about hockey unless someone else started the conversation. I didn't go around asking Pens fans "Hey! Did you catch that Pens game the other night?". For over a year, I rarely wore my Wings championship t-shirt and when I did I made sure I wasn't going to be around any die-hard Pens fans that day. Yet when the Penguins won the Cup this year, most people (not all) couldn't wait to rub it in my face. People that I haven't heard from in years went out of their way to find me, just to rub in the Wings loss. I just rolled my eyes and shook my head. If that's how people want to be, that's their problem. One famous Yzerman quote is "When you lose, say little. When you win, say less." I think those are good words to live by.

I consider myself to be have been very lucky to able to witness the greatness of this franchise over the past 16 years. The Wings experienced a 42 year championship drought that included 6 losses in the Finals and several last place finishes. Since they ended the drought in 1997, they've won 4 Stanley Cups, 5 Campbell Conference Trophies, 4 Presidents Trophies and built a new championship team through the draft despite having the last draft position. No team in any sport has done what the Wings have. They were able to rebuild and win championships at the same time. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have picked up right where Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov left off and didn't miss a beat. As a diehard fan, its a dream come true. As a sports fan, its an amazing feat to behold.

For me, the Red Wings have become more than just a hockey team that I follow. Its become this entity that's tied itself to a lot of personal memories. It was there when I first started watching hockey. It was there when I graduated from high school (1997 champs) and started college (1998 champs). It was there when I finished college (2002 champs). It was there when I got my first job (2002 champs). It was there on my chest when I asked my wife to marry me. It will be with my son for the rest of his life (middle name, 2008 champs). Its shown me the importance of having leadership, respect and class.

When the Red Wings win, I'm proud and I celebrate. When they lose, I'm there to show my support. This is why I wear a team jersey that matches the players for each playoff game. This is why I get hyper over every win. This is why I get mad after every loss. This is why I defend this franchise and these players, day in and day out. This is why I gave my son the name "Yzerman". This is why the 2008 championship felt so good. This is why the 2009 loss made me feel numb. This is why their next championship will taste so sweet. This is MY TEAM. This is why I am a fan of the Detroit Red Wings.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

2009 NHL Season Wrap Up

Pittsburgh Penguins

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on winning the 2009 Stanley Cup!  It was probably one of most improbable championship victories I've ever seen.  The team was ripped apart last summer via free agency and the team was getting pounded by basement dwellers like the Islanders and Maple Leafs before finally firing coach Michael Therrien in February.  Enter Dan Bylsma.  He comes in and installs a new, aggressive forechecking strategy that plays more to the players strengths.  The change in strategy combined with a couple of trades and the Penguins were right back to being one of the elite teams in the league.  They then climbed out of 10th place and skyrocketed up the standings.  On the last day of the regular season they won the 4th seed and actually had home ice advantage during the first round of the playoffs.

As incredible as it was to see them rise so quickly, it was just as amazing to see them blast through the Stanley Cup playoffs.  The Flyers remained on the wrong end of the leash in the first round.  The new Capitals look just like the old Caps getting knocked out of the playoffs by the Penguins.  In the conference finals, the Penguins pounced on a worn down Hurricanes team and won their second straight Prince of Wales trophy.

In the Finals, it was very apparent that the Penguins were simply the hungrier team.  I don't know if it was because their former teammate, Marian Hossa, was on the other side or because they had just lost it the year before but a lot of the Penguins players played above their usual talent level and this gave them the edge they needed.  For the most part Crosby and Malkin were shutdown by the Detroit defense and if the Pens were going to win it they would need big contributions from other players and they got it.  Guys like Jordan Staal and Max Talbot scored big goals.  Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik played outstanding defense and Marc Andre Fleury played probably the best hockey of his life in games 6 and 7.  The Penguins proved that they are more than just a "two man show" as many skeptics had called them and the TEAM was very deserving of the Cup this season.

Looking into the off season, the Pens front office has their work cut out for them.  Evgeni Malkin's contract extension will kick in next year and his cap hit will go from $3.8 million to $8.7 million.  Jordan Staal who was making less than $1 million will now make $4 million.  That's close to $9 million less to work with going into next season with guys like Satan, Fedotenko, Guerin and Scuderi all unrestricted free agents.  The current salary cap is $56.7 million and if it stays the same the Pens will have about $8 million available to sign these players.  However, the cap is projected to go down to $55 million due to the struggling economy.  Whatever the cap may be, the Pens need to resign Rob Scuderi.  He was a fantastic shot blocker and just a real good shutdown defenseman throughout the playoffs.  He needs to be their top priority.  Next, will be a top two line winger.  Guerin will probably want too much, Satan isn't worth the equipment he wears, and I'm not a huge fan of Fedotenko, so the Pens will be better off looking elsewhere.

With the salary cap crunch going into effect, the Pens will need to get creative with their lines.   I think the Pens will need to put Crosby and Malkin together on the same line and give Staal more responsibility as the second line center.  Doing this gives Crosby and the elite winger he should have, validates giving Staal that bigger contract and gives the Pens two good scoring lines as opposed to having them all on separate lines and spreading their talent thin.

Stanley Cup Runner Up

Detroit Red Wings -Well this wasn't the ending I was envisioning (or hoping for), but the Red Wings have fallen just one game short of back to back championships.  It's a tough pill to swallow, but as Henrik Zetterberg mentioned in an interview, the team will learn from this and use it as motivation for next year, just as the Penguins did this year.  Losing in the Finals can be a great motivator for future playoff runs.  When the Wings lost in the Finals in '95, they dominated the league for the next three years with the best regular season record of all time ('96) and two Stanley Cups ('97 - '98).  Winners take negatives and turn them into positives and I believe this team knows that and will be back soon.

Before this playoff run began, I felt that Henrik Zetterberg was one of the best two way players in the game.  Today, I know, without a doubt that not only is he the best two way player in the game, but he's one of the best players period.  The Red Wings may have come up short of their objective this season, but it wasn't due to the lack of effort on the part of Zetterberg.  His assignment going into this series was to shutdown two of the most dynamic offensive players in hockey and without his Selke nominee and teammate, Pavel Datsyuk, for most of the series he was going to have to do it by himself... and he did.  Sidney Crosby recorded just one goal and two assists in the 7 game series while Malkin was limited to just 2 goals equaling the output of the Wings black ace, Justin Abdelkader.  Z will probably never win the Art Ross or Hart Trophies, but his drive, leadership and talent should win him the trophy that matters most, the Stanley Cup, several times before the end of his career.

Going into this off season, like the Penguins, will have to make some tough decisions especially with the possibility of the salary cap shrinking.  Zetterberg will get a $4 million dollar raise next year and Johan Franzen will get a $3 million dollar raise himself, giving them about $5 mil of cap space, $3 mil if it goes down.  The biggest question mark is Marian Hossa.  His disappearance in the post season will surely hurt his market value, but will it bring down his price enough for the Wings to resign him?  The rumor right now is that the Wings are looking to lock him up, long term at $4 mil cap hit per year for the remainder of his career.  Its up to Hossa now whether he wants to finish what he started and go after that elusive Stanley Cup with the team he believed he could do it with or jet off to somewhere else, take the big money and probably never get his name engraved on hockey's holy grail.  As a Wings fan, I hope he takes a hometown discount and stays with the Wings.  His style of play fits this team perfectly and his presence on the second line gives them the best second line in the NHL.  If Hossa leaves, I would like to see the Wings go after Mats Sundin or Marian Gaborik or use that extra money to sure up the back end of their defensive corp because Lebda and Lilja are at times downright scary in their own end.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

2009 Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Detroit Red Wings (2) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (4)

Here we go again! The 2008 Stanley Cup Finals were so exciting we figured we'd do it all over again. Why not? Its good for ratings, good for the NHL, good for the fans... not so good for people like me that like BOTH teams, but whatever. I can endure a knotted up stomach and a painful headache for a couple weeks for the good of the game. With the way the NHL scheduled the games, the players will have to endure a lot more than what I'm going through. Despite both teams finishing off their conference finals opponents in quick fashion, both teams will be thrown right back into action this weekend with back to back games to boot. This bizarre scheduling could also affect the outcome of the series. Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar is playing with a bad knee and playing 3 games in 4 days at this stage in the season won't help. As for Detroit, they are currently without team captain and Norris Trophy candidate Nick Lidstrom as well as MVP and Selke candidate, Pavel Datsyuk. Both teams, Detroit especially, wouldn't mind having a few extra days to heal up, especially since both had a short offseason and are now here again.

Forwards: The Penguins have two of the best offensive forwards in the game today and they are both currently on fire. Their talent has sparked others and made them legitimate scoring threats as well. On the other side, Detroit has entire roster full of two way forwards led by the two best in the league, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Under no circumstances can I see the Penguins having the edge in this category. While Pittsburgh's forwards mirror that of the 1980's Oilers, the Wings are built and play just like the 1970's Canadiens with the defensive forwards that can also score goals. Defense wins championships.

Defensemen: People will make the argument that Detroit's defense isn't as good as it was last year and that's true, its not, but that doesn't make it bad. As long as Nick Lidstrom is wearing the winged wheel, Detroit will have one of the top defenses in the league. The Wings second pairing of Kronwall and Stuart is better than most teams first pairings. The Penguins have a solid defense themselves, however each defenseman serves a specific role whereas Detroit's defensemen are more well rounded. Assuming Lidstrom comes back off his injury and isn't limited, the Wings win out here.

Goalies: Statistically, Chris Osgood has been the better goalie in these playoffs, however, I don't know if you'll find many people out there that would rather have Ozzie over Marc Andre Fleury. Fleury, all by himself, can steal a game which is one of the reasons why the Pens are so tough to beat. He does have his occasional lapse here and there and will give up a softie, but for the most part, Fleury is on his game and a tough playoff goalie to beat. Meanwhile, Chris Osgood has 3 Stanley Cups and still no respect. He's not the type of goalie to steal a game, but he is the type of goalie that won't cost your team a lot of money and does what is necessary to win games, year in, year out. He's not as flashy as Fleury, but he's just as effective. Still, I'm giving the advantage here to the Penguins.

For the Penguins to win this series: They need to harness all that emotion and hunger they have and use it in this series. The Pens are the younger, hungrier, healthier team and will want it badly. Guys like Talbot, Fedotenko, Satan, Kennedy, Staal, Kunitz, Guerin will all need to play at a higher level to overcome Detroit's depth advantage. If they can do that and Crosby and Malkin can continue to play at the high level they're at now, the Pens will win the series.

For the Red Wings to win this series: They need to be healthy. They won't beat the Penguins with 47 year old Chris Chelios playing defense. They need Lidstrom and Datsyuk. With these two in the lineup, Detroit will be able to nullify Crosby and Malkin, which would seriously cripple the Penguins ability to score goals. At that point, Detroit can use their superior depth to overwhelm Pittsburgh and win the series.

Prediction: With so many unknown factors going into this, its tough to say either way. If the Wings are healthy and Osgood doesn't have a meltdown, they'll take this series in 5 games. If they're not healthy, this will be a 6 or 7 games series and I think if it gets to that point, the Pens may have more in the tank to win it in the end, but really its a toss up. My official prediction is the Wings will get healthy and win back to back Cups.

The eliminated teams

Chicago Blackhawks - Ohhhhh those young Blackhawks. They came in ready to light the world on fire and instead got lit on fire by the defending champs. This Blackhawks team has a lot of good, young talent and will be in the playoff picture for years to come, but as far as the Western Conference Finals were concerned, they were taken to school. They didn't seem as desperate to win as the Wings. They didn't seem to go the extra mile. I read a quote from Patrick Kane saying that he's "here to score goals, not block shots". Its the playoffs, you do whatever is necessary to win. If it means sticking your face in front of a shot, you do it. This year's Hawks were compared to last year's Penguins by many, but this Chicago team is no where near as mature as the Pens.

While they have a bright distant future, they have a rocky near future. Chicago has over $12 mil tied up in two goalies, neither of which played well in the playoffs and $7 mil wrapped up in Brian Campbell who had a let down season and a forgettable playoffs. The Hawks have a lot of money invested in players that really aren't worth what they're being paid and with guys like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews approaching new contracts, one has to wonder what lengths Chicago will go in order to free up money to keep those two under the salary cap. They will have some interesting decisions to make in the next couple off seasons.

Carolina Hurricanes - Wow! What can you say about the Canes? They upset the Devils and Bruins in back to back series, then play probably the worst round of hockey I've ever seen against the Penguins. After two energy draining 7 games series, the Canes just simply didn't have it for this round and at no point in this series did it look like it was coming back. Crosby and Malkin just did whatever they wanted and Cam Ward played like he was "unconscious" in goal. Eric Staal, who had been a beast for the first two rounds, registered just two points and finished with a -7 rating. The Canes were lucky to be where they were, plain and simple. This is a two man team. Staal and Ward and that's it. Ward was off his game big time and Staal, with no one to pass to, was just swarmed by the Penguins defense. First up in the off season, sign Ward to a long term deal. He was amazing up until the Conference Finals and if Carolina ever wants to even think about returning to the Finals, they need to have him signed long term. Second, give Eric Staal someone to pass to. The poor guy is out there, basically by himself. Give him a legitimate scoring threat and it would do wonders for this club. If neither one of those are done, they may as well change their colors to dark blue, green and gray and move back to Hartford.

Friday, May 15, 2009

2009 Western Conference Finals

Detroit Red Wings (2) vs Chicago Blackhawks (4)

And then there were two. The two left in the West are two teams that met each other many times back in the day when there was only six teams total. I'll be honest, I didn't expect the Hawks to make it this far. They're a young team that had zero playoff experience coming into the postseason. Now they're in the Conference Finals where they'll face a team with tons of playoff experience and lots of bling to go along with it. The Red Wings will be playing in their third straight conference finals while Chicago will be playing in their first since 1995 since they played the Wings. I believe the Wings faced their toughest opponent in Anaheim and should have an easier time against the inexperienced Blackhawks, but there is one wild card in this. The same wild card Detroit has in every round... Chris Osgood. Osgood played Chicago once this year and lost, while backup Ty Conklin owns a 4-1 record. If Ozzie struggles at all in this round, I wouldn't be surprised to see a switch. Prediction: The Wings have better depth in their forwards and on their defense plus they have the experience which is invaluable when you make it this far into the playoffs. It'll be a tough scrappy series, but the Wings will take it in 6 games.

The eliminated teams

Vancouver Canucks - Canucks goalie and team captain, Roberto Luongo made $7 million this year. Any chance they could get a refund? The Canucks most expensive player couldn't have played worse. In Game 1 he blew a 3-1 lead, only to be bailed out by his offense late in the third period. In Game 2, he was lit up for 5 goals and he was shaky the rest of the way. Nobody expected the Canucks to do anything this year, but nobody expected them to go out like this. If anything they were expected to lose because they couldn't score goals, not prevent them.

Where does Vancouver go from here? Well Sundin should retire. Both Sedin twins are UFA's this summer and Luongo is in the final year of his deal and will become a UFA next summer. This team is at an interesting crossroads and could re-invent themselves over the next couple years. They're a good team, but they're not exactly one player away from a championship. They're kind of in the middle of the road right now and don't appear to be moving forward and if you're not moving forward in the NHL, you're moving backwards.

Anaheim Ducks - You have to give credit where credit is due. I don't like the Ducks at all. They play a physical goon style brand of hockey which I think it absolute garbage. They have annoying players that make me want to jump over the glass and cross check them into oblivion. But, they beat the Presidents Trophy winning San Jose Sharks and pushed the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings to the brink in Game 7. No other team had a tougher task than the Ducks in this postseason and they stood up to the challenge, met it and fell just short. I can't stand the Ducks, but you have to respect them for how well they played in these playoffs.

Unfortunately for them, this may be the end of the road for this particular version of the Anaheim Ducks. Teemu Selanne and Scott Niederymayer may both retire and Chris Pronger is entering the final year of his contract. The good news though is that they shouldn't have a problem bouncing back. Ryan Getzlaf is one of the top 5 forwards in the NHL right now. Corey Perry just keeps getting better and better and will be a 40 goal scorer in this league soon. Bobby Ryan showed why he would've been the number one overall pick if Crosby wasn't in the same draft class as him. He has the potential to be the next big 50 goal scorer. Plus, let's not forget rookie goalie Jonas Hiller coming out of nowhere and stealing the number one job from JS Giguere. All of these players mentioned are 26 or younger. So while this version of the Ducks that won a Stanley Cup two years ago will fade away, Anaheim Ducks 2.0 looks to be just as good as the original.

2009 Eastern Conference Finals

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs Carolina Hurricanes (6)

So the only thing standing between the Penguins and their second consecutive trip to the Finals are the Cinderella Carolina Hurricanes. Wow, did things break in the Penguins favor or what? Instead of having to deal with New Jersey or Boston, they get to play the team that knocked both of those teams out. No disrespect to the Canes, but I'll take the old Hartford Whalers over the Bruins and Devils any day of the week. On paper, this should easily fall in favor of Pittsburgh, but everyone thought that in the first two rounds too and the Canes are still here. The play of goaltender Cam Ward is the key to this series. He was a major factor in each of the upset wins. If he can continue his strong play, we're in for another long series. If not, the Pens will roll over them and roll fast. Prediction: I picked against the Canes twice and was wrong both times obviously. Well, third times, a charm... Pens in 6.

The eliminated teams

Boston Bruins - This one is a head scratcher. How do you go from being so dominant one minute to losing Game 7 in your own building after making a HUGE comeback? This Bruins team was strong, it was playoff ready, it had a strong defense, a top notch goalie, forward depth and yet still snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The B's can take away one thing from this though, a lot of their young players got some valuable playoff experience and you can never underestimate how important that is. Keep your heads up Bruin fans, you have a very bright future ahead of you.

Washington Capitals - While people are still debating on who's better, Ovechkin or Crosby, one thing is for sure, the Penguins still own the Caps in the playoffs. Their really wasn't a doubt in my mind as to how this was going to turn out. The Caps have Ovechkin, the Pens had Crosby. The Pens had Malkin, the Caps had... umm.. uhh.. you know that guy that looked like he was trying to break the plexiglass with the puck... Semin. The Penguins just simply had too many superstars, while the Caps have a bunch of guys that like to run their mouths (Semin), complain about their sticks (Mike Green) and whine about the pressure of having to play Game 7 at home (Bruce Boudreau).

After watching this series, I think Alexander Ovechkin is, without a doubt, the best player in the NHL. How could I possibly say that after he just lost to Crosby? This next sentence will clear everything up for you. Ovechkin scored 8 goals and picked up 6 assists against Marc Andre Fleury and the Penguins defense. Crosby scored 8 goals and picked up 5 assists against rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov and the Caps defense. Ovechkin, needless to say, had much tougher obstacles to overcome than Crosby. Not taking anything away from Crosby, but he had a much better team around him than Ovechkin who basically had no support from anyone but still managed to push this to a 7 game series. Without Ovechkin the Capitals are a lottery team. They have NOTHING beyond his line. They're basically just a bunch of warm bodies filling out uniforms. Varlamov may turn out to be a franchise goalie, then again he could be the next Jim Carey for them. Right now, they're a mess and really don't have a great team. They have one great player. If this franchise is able to give Ovechkin a supporting cast, they will be serious contenders for a Cup every year. Till then, its going to be Alexander the Great trying to cover up for all the Caps "great" gaping holes in their lineup.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

2009 Western Conference Playoffs: Round Two

Detroit Red Wings (2) vs Anaheim Ducks (8)

"Revenge is a dish best served cold" or in this case served "on" cold. In the 2007 playoffs, the Red Wings dominated the Ducks, yet still found a way to lose in 6 games. Two years later, these two meet up with each having won a Stanley Cup since that playoff encounter. Coming off a huge upset of the Presidents trophy winning Sharks, the Ducks are now looking to knock off the defending champs. Sorry quackers, but it isn't happening. The Wings are a better team than they were in 07 and even better than they were last year when they won the Cup. Unless Chris Osgood has a meltdown, there is no way the Ducks should come out of this alive. Anaheim gave the Sharks a lot of powerplays in their series and if they do the same to the Wings in this one, it'll be over quickly. Wings get revenge take this series in 5 games.

Vancouver Canucks (3) vs Chicago Blackhawks (4)

Its been so long since the Canucks have played a game it probably feels like they've been eliminated. Going into this series, that could be a problem for the Nucks as the Blackhawks will have had enough time to rest, but not get rusty. It should be another tough series for the Hawks and will probably go 6 or 7 games. Luongo did great against them in the regular season while the Bulin Wall was shelled by Vancouver twice. Its a tough call, the series looks to be pretty even, but I like the Canucks, with the extra rest, to come out on top in 7 games.

The eliminated teams

San Jose Sharks - My first reaction to seeing the Sharks upset by the Ducks was surprise, but then I thought to myself, "Why am I surprised? Its the Sharks! They can change that logo of the Shark eating the stick to a Shark choking on one." Despite racking up 117 points and winning the Presidents Trophy, the Sharks once again choked hard in the playoffs leaving their fan base and hockey experts shaking their heads in disbelief. The problem with this particular team is simple, the parts don't match machine their trying to build. Former Wings coach Todd McLellan came to San Jose with the idea that he was going to install Detroit's system and they would play like the Wings. The only problem is the personnel didn't match the system. The Wings system requires a good puck moving defense, three or four lines of speedy forwards that can backcheck, pass and possess the puck most of the time. The Sharks simply don't have those kind of players. The defense looks strong, although Rob Blake will most likely retire leaving a hole on the blue line and I'm starting to question whether or not Nabokov can be counted on to be a good playoff goalie after letting in some soft goals in this series. As for the forwards, beyond Thornton and Marleau, who do they have? Setoguchi? Cheechoo? Michalek? These are fringe second liners on most teams and should not be counted on to score most of your teams goals.

The Sharks don't need to "clean house" as some people have suggested, but they do need to make a few big changes starting with Joe Thornton. Thornton looked out of place in this series. He was forcing passes, not taking shots and showed no leadership qualities at all. He commands a big salary and will never fit in this particular system. So I would get rid of Jumbo Joe and look to replace him with a Marian Gaborik and/or Marian Hossa type of player. Which, by the way, are both are UFA's at the end of the season and both fit with what the Sharks are trying to do.

Calgary Flames -Alright, I think its time. They've proved it every year since reaching the Finals in 04 and now they are deserving of this glorious label... overrated. On paper, this team looks stacked. Iginla, Jokinen, Cammalleri, Phaneuf, Kiprusoff, but when it gets to crunch time, this team simply doesn't have the guts to get it done. For all the praise and hype Jarome Iginla gets, in three of the last four years he's scored less than 40 goals. He's a good goal scorer, but not an elite talent like everyone seems to think he is. Kiprusoff also hasn't lived up to the hype. His win total stays around 40 every year, but his GAA has gotten worse and worse and didn't look like himself at all in the playoffs. The addition of Olli Jokinen made them a darkhorse in some people's minds entering the playoffs, but once again the Flames burnout quickly and have to some tough off season decisions to make regarding personnel.

St. Louis Blues - Wait a minute. The Blues were in the playoffs? No seriously, the St Louis Blues. They were in it? Hmmm... I must have missed that. It seemed like before the playoffs really got underway the Blues were out of it. Andy McDonald looked really good for the Blues, but that was about it. Chris Mason looked good as well, but good isn't good enough in the playoffs. It'll be interesting to see next year if this playoff appearence was a sign of things to come or just a fluke.

Columbus Blue Jackets - The Blue Jackets waited ten long years before qualifying for the playoffs. Unfortunately, they'll have to wait a little bit longer to get their first playoff win. The team and franchise that had zero playoff experience ran into a team that couldn't have more, the defending champion Red Wings, and were swept. That's a very tough first draw for anyone. Super rookie Steve Mason looked very Clark Kent-ish with a GAA way over 4.00 and the Jackets offense scored a grand total of 2 goals in the first 3 games of the series. So they gave up a ton of goals and at the same time couldn't score any. Well at least they can say they were there, right? That's something.