Phaneuf Not Enough for Leafs; But Still…

RANT:

Dion Phaneuf has been traded to the Maple Leafs from the Calgary Flames. He is arguabley the best “hitter” or “checker”, whatever you want to call it, in the NHL. He has also just been traded to the worst defensive team in the NHL this season. With a defense of Komisarek, Kaberle and now Dion Phaneuf however, I begin to question if they will soon emerge from the dog house. I then look at their goaltending situation, and say to myself, “Vesa Toskala?…No Problem!”. Then I read on and see that they have traded Toskala to the Ducks for one time Stanley Cup great, still has greatness potential, Jean Sebastian Giguere. I then, as a Bruins fan, ask if the Maple Leafs, one of the few teams worse than the Bruins at the moment, can acquire a brand new goalie, and reinvent their defense, acquring, in my opinion, the most valuable defenseman up for grabs this season, why couldn’t the Bruins even get a skate in the door on that deal. Don’t get me wrong, in a team by team, player by player, and simple offensive comparison between the two teams, the Leafs don’t stand a chance. That being said… Bruins… wake up!

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Best Pitcher of our Era

Growing up in the 90’s I saw many dominant pitchers in the prime of their careers and yes, even ones not linked to baseball’s kryptonite; steroids. You had guys like Greg Maddox, Tom Glavine,  and Randy Johnson, just to name a few, but one  stands out more than any other, and that man is Pedro Martinez; one of the most dominant pitchers of the 90’s and into the new millenium as well. Pedro possessed a plethora of dangerous pitches, and he wasnt afraid to throw any of them, on any count. There was no guessing on Pedro Martinez, and that is what made his so deadly. If you were gearing up for a fastball on a 3-1 count he would throw a change-up, if you thought a breaking ball on  0-2, BOOM, there’s a 2-seamer on the inside corner that you looked foolish on, because you thought it was gonna hit you, but instead, strike 3. Better luck next time. Pedro was not afraid of any hitter, and he was certainly not afraid to throw inside and send a message. You can ask Derek Jeter about that. Every time you saw Pedro in the lineup you knew you were about to see something special.

Pedro had many classic starts with the Red Sox, some still talked about today. A 1-0 shutout  beating Roger Clemens at Yankee stadium. A masterful 17 strikeout performance against the Devil Rays “beaning” the very first batter of the game, and asserting his dominance thereafter. The 1999 game 5 against the Indians at Jacob’s Field, playing hurt, he came in relief pitching 7 perfect innings. 1999 was a dominant year for Pedro all around with a record of 23-4, a 2.07 ERA, 313 strikeouts and allowing opponent’s to hit only .205 against him. Are you kidding me? Is there any other starting pitcher that had a year like that in recent memory? The next year in 2000 his ERA was 1.74 and his batting average against was .164, and he was a starter people. Do you know how hard it is to do that? It’s near impossible.

Pedro’s focus was unmatched by anyone, not just in baseball, but in sports as a whole. When he put that foot on the rubber, it was game time. He had the face of a hungry lion hunting his prey and it stayed that way the whole game, even in the dugout. Pedro was a clown any other day of the week, but when it was his game, he kicked that little kid in him out and let the beast in. Pedro said he knew he would dominate you when he stepped on the mound and the distance to home plate looked microscopic. That domination happened more times than not.

Pedro possessed many deadly weapons. A blazing straight fastball, a screw ball “like” 2 seam fastball, an almost un-hittable change-up, a knee buckling breaking ball, and an occasional slider. The way he mixed those pitches was almost sinful. Any pitch, any count. If you were lucky enough to hit a home run against Pedro you might as well have started your next at bat on the dirt because that first pitch was gonna knock you down. Once again, ask Derek Jeter about that. Pedro dominated a time in baseball plagued by juiced balls, corked bats, and steroids That’s what makes him the best

Worst Fears Realized?

After watching the Boston Celtics lose to the Orlando Magic last night, I had my felt my heart break.  A heartbreak that only a true fan would ever understand and a casual observer would criticize.  To put this moment into words is rather difficult because I felt such disappointment in what had transpired.  I wasn’t overly upset that the Celtics lost. No, that will happen time to time.  I wasn’t even angry that they blew a 16 point lead to a conference rival. Nope, it has happened before.  What I saw was so upsetting it borders depression.

Kevin Garnett is getting old. He is no longer the force he was back in Minnesota and he’s not even near what he is when he first arrived in Boston. Last night, I watched Rashard Lewis drive by Kevin Garnett, as if he was a folding chair used in a dribbling drill for 2nd graders.  Garnett was beat like he was Jonathan Wilhite on 3rd and long.  Lewis didn’t even have to put a move on him to get by him. He simply ran past him on the baseline.  It is not like Garnett didn’t try to stop him, he just couldn’t.

This is what is so depressing about sports.  Fans fall in love with their players, becoming attached to their every move.  Boston Red Sox fans know what its like to watch the demise of a fan favorite.  No one crashed harder than Jason Varitek and his .158 batting average in the 2nd half of last season.  No one would criticize Varitek.  How could you? He gave us ten great years and 2 World Series titles as the backstop of the Sox.  Instead, his at bats went from fans pleading with ‘Tek to do something somewhat productive, to straight awkward. The awkwardness of watching a star athlete and hometown favorite in their decline is troubling.

If there is a bright side to this whole thing, for every Kevin Garnett there is a Rajon Rondo.  While Garnett is in decline, through no fault of his own with his knee injuries, we have enjoyed watching Rondo amaze night in and night out to the tune of an all star berth this season.

Is this an overreaction? That point could be made and I wouldn’t argue it.   But sports evokes an unspeakable emotion in fans. I grew attached to Garnett since his arrival and I wish he could maintain his elite level of play for ten more years. That is unrealistic.  Where the Celtics go from here, I have no idea.

My hope is that Garnett will bounce back from his poor play last night. My hope that he is able to have the team jump on his back and carry them to Banner 18. My fear is that the Celtics are aging and their run is over.

Bruins Can’t Risk Rask Over Thomas

If one were to look at the NHL and the Boston Bruins this season, having never watched a single game, knowing and seeing only the statistics, they would ask why Tim Thomas is still considered the starter over Tuukka Rask. They may also ask  how a 12-year-old Finish girl makes it in the NHL, but then upon closer review, would be forced to retract that line of questioning and realize that though still young in his own right, Rask is a 22-year-old man. I use the term man loosely however, not just because I was one of the observers who made the mistake mentioned above, but because 22 represents inexperience, especially at the helm of Nation Hockey League team, and represents immaturity, however mature your skills as a goaltender may be. As a backup starter to Tim Thomas this year, in his rookie season as a full timer, he is dwarfing the numbers put up by last years Vezina Trophy winner. Rask has 10 wins in 18 starts where Thomas has only 13 wins in 33 starts, however he maintains an above average goals against and save percentage. Rask trumps these above average numbers however, yet again, by ranking 3rd in the NHL with a 2.19 GAA and a .924 SV%. For those fair weather hockey fans throughout New England, concerned more about their Patriots and Red Sox and Celtics, do not be fooled by simple statistics. Statistics are the wool the NHL uses to pull over the eyes of the less in tuned to the ways of the ice, the throw of a punch, and the intricacy of a stick check or a penalty kill. The NHL picks and chooses who its poster children will be and yes I said children to form a cliché as well as a pun, criticizing not the skill of Crosby and Ovechkin, so heavily in the spot light, but their leadership capabilities and maturity levels.

Tuukka Rask will not be ready as a starter in the NHL until mid-way through next season, and even then it should not be enough and will not be enough to overthrow Thomas. If Tim can keep up his compete level and continue to stand on his head while the defense in front of him falls to injuries and blown expectations, they will all but be compelled to nurse from the breast feedings of leadership and intensity he provides whenever he is asked to play. Rask, however, is special. He will be better than Raycroft “was” and he is better than Hannu Toivonen and John Grahame ever were. I believe Rask will stay in Boston to begin what should be a long career, and I believe this will happen at the beginning of the 2011/12 season, after some carefully thought out “platooning” and goaltending by committee. Even Thomas “platooned” for a while, up and down between Boston and Providence from the 02/03 season to the 05/06 season. Once he was ready however, though older than your average rookie goaltender, he became the first great goalie the Bruins had seen since they parted ways with Byron Dafoe in 01/02. Raycroft had a great 03/04 season, don’t get me wrong, and won the Calder Trophy that year, for rookie of the year, but he wasn’t a great goalie, and he did not last within this organization. On June 24th, 2006, Andrew Raycroft was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for unproven rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask. This is not coincidence. It is simply a testament to new way of thinking, and avoidance of the current Bruins organization to repeat the mistakes of their past. Thomas beat out Manny Fernandez last year, and he beat out, if there was a question, Alex Auld the year before. Even in the face of adversity, even with the statistics making a valid but loaded case for themselves, do not doubt Tim Thomas as the leader of this team. Tuukka Rask will have to wait out the storm and bide his time, because ladies and gentlemen the Bruins are struggling to stay above water, and assigning or assuming Rask as the starter or anything but the backup, is throwing him off the ship without a life preserver.

Facts:

*Jaroslav Halak, back up for the Montreal Canadiens for the last three seasons, two of which were spent behind Carey Price, recently made his case, on a team struggling this year equivalently to the Bruins, to jump from back up to declared starter. Struggles breed hasty and at most times wrong decisions. Look for Montreal to struggle even worse, for the remainder of this season.

*Nikolai Khabibulin, Martin Gerber, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Chris Osgood, Marc Andre Fleury; Last five goalies ridden by their teams into Stanley Cup victories, Osgood doing so after earning and keeping the right to start every game in the playoffs after Dominik Hasek lost 2 out of the first 4 in the 2007-08 season, proving that goaltending by committee does not win you a Stanley Cup, especially in the new look NHL, where winning and losing streaks define a team’s season.

“On Janurary 1st, 2010, Tim Thomas was named a starter on the U.S Winter Olympic Hockey Team. Tim Thomas is 35 years old.

Big East Full of Beasts

The major college sports all have their respective conferences that every year seem to dominate the standings and rankings.  Football has the SEC and Big 12, baseball with the Pac-10, Big 12 and SEC, hockey is more of a northern sport, and then their is basketball.  NCAA Men’s basketball in the last 15 years has had the widest range of competitive teams that have made postseason runs.  With the exception of those teams that are unlucky enough to get into the 16 seed, although very rarely they have given their No.1 opponent a run, have a chance to advance through the NCAA tournament more so in basketball than any other college sport.  Every year though, there is one supreme conference among all the rest, the Big East.  Other conferences have their perenial ranked teams, such as Duke and UNC in the ACC, Texas and Kansas in the Big 12, UCLA in the Pac-10, and Kentucky and Tennesee in the SEC, but when you look at these respective teams play in conference the Big East teams look like men, as for the rest?  Just boys. 

As I sat down and watched the Monday night prime time game involving the long time rivalry of #11 Georgetown at #4 Syracuse in which the Hoyas came into Syracuse and quickly took a 14-0 lead out of the gates only to have the Orangemen clamp down defensively to eventually win the game by 17, I asked myself, “What could be better than watching conference play in the Big East?”  After being distracted by bright colors, followed by seeing Brett Favre (you should be pronouncing that Fah-vruh) on the TV and realizing how much I really do not care, I eventually landed at the answer that Big East basketball is consistently the most entertaining form of sport to watch.  Greatly helping the fact is the Big East is also consistent with having the most seeded teams in the country, regularly having 4 to 5 teams, and currently 6 in the Top 25, with 2 in the top 5 this year.  Having all these ranked teams provides you with an exciting thing to watch, the upset.  The upset, especially when it is of the “cinderella” variety running through the tournament, is exciting to watch in any sport but with the overall parity in college basketball it has almost become a common occurrence and gives fans of teams that do not have the talent of others hope that they will be selected to play in March, proven by how I feel tonight watching Providence take down a talented UCONN team coming off a win against then No. 1 Texas.  Having so many of these teams in the Big East and seeing the other teams in the league randomly take the ranked ones down repeatedly proves how strong of a conference these teams compete in.  In recent years ranging to years passed some full Big East squads in these respective years probably could have challenged many NBA teams consistently…with that said almost any college team could dominate the Nets right now, possibly even D-III Rhode Island College.

Yet, in college basketball it is not just about getting the ranking as much as it is about keeping that ranking next to your school name.  Kansas, Texas, and as of last night Kentucky have all held the No. 1 rank this year and all three were unable to hold onto it, in the case of the Wildcats they could hardlykeep it for a couple days!  That is the case though.  Some of the high ranking teams in the land really do not have the quality competition that you find in the Big East and still lose. That quality competition is the key ingredient in these teams always moving up and down, sometimes out of the rankings, because of the talent top to bottom imposing physical match ups every night.  For instance…UCONN, a perenial power, has 7 losses this season, 4 of which from Big East Teams, and 2 of those from unseeded teams….Syracuse has one loss coming from the conference, PITT has 2 of their 4 losses in conference, 4 of 6 Notre Dame losses are due to conference play, Cincinnati was ranked nationally for a short time earlier this season and had 3 losses going into conference then received 4 more…if you do not understand what I am getting at then my attempts are futile, but I will try one more attempt anyway…

Let’s take a look at the Final Four in the last 25 years because that is what the season comes down to in getting yourseilf into that 4, and allow me to throw some numbers at you:

3 – The number of teams the Big East sent to the Final Four in 1985…no other conference has ever had 3.

4 – The number of times over this period when the Big East has sent 2 teams amongst the 4…admittedly the Big Ten has actually done this 5 times.

8 – This number has been acheived twice, being the number of teams the Big East has sent to the tournament…no other conference has ever sent that many and the Big East has done it twice since 2006.

11 – The times in the last 25 years that a Big East team has been represented in the Final Four (Once again admitting this is tied with a couple conferences and the ACC absolutely dominates this category with being represented 19 times in the last 25 years!)

And the most important of all these numbers…

10 – As opposed to 7 for the Big 10, 5 for the SEC, 4 for both the Big 12 and ACC, and 3 for the Pac-10, these digits show the number of DIFFERENT teams that the best conference in the nation has sent to the Final Four in the last 25 years, that conference being THE BIG EAST.

To Kovalchuk Or Not To Kovalchuk, That Is The Question

Each NHL season, as January comes to a close the trade rumors start flying around like snowflakes in a snow squall as the early March trade deadline approaches.  However, this season there is two deadlines because of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver as there will be a roster freeze that is in effect February 12th at midnight until February 28th at midnight.  A lot of NHL experts are saying that February 11th and the actual March 3rd trade deadline could be equally exciting in terms of “last minute deals.”

At any rate, this year’s coveted player is Ilya Kovalchuk, a player that has proven himself as one of the elite scorers in the game as we speak.  A winger who can change the complexion of game with his lightning quick snap shot, blazing slap shot, and speed that would make Usain Bolt jealous without relying on the system or anyone else around him.  Ilya is 26 (almost 27) and in NHL terms, he is just hitting his prime.  He is tied 4th in the entire league in goals (30) with his old linemate Dany Heatley.  He also has 26 helpers on a line with Nik Antropov and Bryan Little.  Those guys are no slouches by any stretch of the imagination but they certainly wouldn’t make an All-Star roster (if there was one this year).   Kovalchuk has also had a hand in 53% of the teams 36 powerplay goals (the Thrashers are 18th in the league in PP points).  Lastly, as of January 26th, Ilya has 173 shots on goal (13th in the entire league) and has a scoring percentage of .173, only three players over 100 SOG are ahead of him in that category.  My point is: this guy is getting it done in spades on a team that is consistently out of playoff contention every year.

With that all said, the Boston Bruins enter January 27th having lost 8 of their last 9 and only collecting 1 point in the last 5 losses, a game where they lead Los Angeles by two goals heading into the 3rd period and lost in a shootout.  This Bruins squad is struggling to not only score goals but, to find any kind of spark with their offense.  This season, the Bruins are 30th in goals, second to last in scoring percentage, and the team is 20th in the league in powerplay percentage.  Thank god they are 6th in the league goals against average or who knows what dumpster this team would be in.

The bottom line is that the Bruins are one of the top rumored suitors to get the expiring contract of Ilya Kovalchuk and the Bruins need a prolific goal scorer like this like there is no tomorrow.  Getting the winger in Boston and getting him resigned to play on a line with Marc Savard for many years would make this team a contender year in and year out.

So what is it going to take?  Many in the know are saying a 1st round pick, a top prospect, and a current roster player that can help impact the Thrashers now.  I think I need to lean toward who is off limits before we dive into possible pieces of a deal.

OFF LIMITS:

2010 1st Rnd pick (from TOR, potential top 5 pick)

Marc Savard

Patrice Bergeron

Milan Lucic

Zdeno Chara

Tuukka Rask

Joe Colburne (University of Denver)

Tim Thomas

This is your untouchables list.  There’s one guy you might be thinking that I am leaving off but, yes, I did leave David Krejci off of this list.  Do not get me wrong, I love this guy here but Vladimir Sobotka could easily fill that void.  Here’s my offer:

To Boston:

Ilya Kovalchuk

To Atlanta:

David Krejci, 2010 1st Rnd pick (not TOR’s), Zach Hamill (2007 8th overall pick) and Brad Marchand (Prov).

I’ve also considered Michael Ryder going the other way as well on top of that or replacing one of the prospects.  Either way, that’s the base of the deal above.  Remember, if this is just a rental (aka Kovalchuk goes to free agency this summer) then the return to Atlanta won’t be as much.

The Bruins desperately need Kovalchuk and adding another piece to the puzzle (Jordan Leopold on defense ) would not hurt either.  The Bruins have not had a guy who has scored 50 goals in Boston (Kovi has done it twice and on pace to do it again this year) since Cam Neely did it in 1993-1994.  This is their chance to get this guy in town and still use a defensive system that has the opportunity to put goals on the scoreboard and win games without relying on their opponent’s mistakes to score goals.  The Bruins need to start creating their chances and they start with Savard feeding Kovalchuk.

Do you make this deal?

The Divine Comedy as a Baltimore Tragedy; Tejada Returns

Dante Alighieri wrote of an afterlife consisting of three worlds, three choices, three completely different outcomes. The Comedy that it has been, for the last fifteen years, to be an Orioles fan, among the champions of the East, has been less than comical, however comparative to Dante’s work in that it harbors three completely different stages of fandom. A year out of the players strike, 1995, Cal Ripken breaks Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak, and enough has already been said to symbolize where this season fits into the equation. Two years out the players strike, 1996, Brady Anderson shows off his “Situation” on the cover of S.I. and 50 HRs later, the O’s fight their way into the Championship Series. In 1997, still under the helm of Davey Johnson, introduced an entirely new level of ownership stupidity on Peter Angelos’ part, who later fires Johnson for his refusal to deal with Roberto Alomar as a prima donna. That year however, yielded yet another Championship Series arrival for the O’s, and with a lineup of Ripken, Alomar, Palmiero, Mussina, Erickson, and newly acquired Jimmy Key, it was truly a Paradise.

The following 10 years would lead to nine 4th place finishes in the A.L. East, and to keep with the comparison, lead the O’s straight, into what Dante calls, the Inferno. Now there was nothing sacred about the Albert Belle acquisition, and there was nothing sacred about sheltering some of the biggest names to come out of the steroid era, but the comparison between these circles of the Inferno cannot stop simply at sacrilegious dealings of a broken organization.  Now the centralized idea behind this post, revolves around the current acquisition of former, soon to return, Oriole, Miguel Tejada. Be on the lookout for how he fits into this Inferno, and how he contributed to the Purgatory to follow. The First Circle of Hell, is Limbo, the hope for something greater. No organization, up for argument, holds more superstars expecting greatness over the last ten years, only to leave disappointed, than the Baltimore Orioles. There is no greater example of this than Miguel Tejada himself, who played at less and less of a compete level, as his expectations slowly dwindled. Tejada would later leave for Houston after telling the O’s management he would spend the rest of his career with Baltimore. Miggy is truly a virtuous pagan of his generation. The Second Circle is Lust, obviously personified by Roberto Alomar who in 1996  knowingly refused to inform his girlfriend at the time that he had HIV, and on the field tried giving it to major league umpire John Hirschbeck. Alomar left the O’s in peril as there woes began in the 98′ season. The Third Circle is Gluttony represented by the Orioles in the form of short lived first baseman/DH Walter Young who inexplicably appeared in 14 games in 2005 weighing in at a Major League Baseball record 322 lbs, and than, for no reason at all, vanished (designated for assignment). The Fourth Circle is Greed represented by the 2001 All Star game where Cal Ripken Jr. steals the SS position from A-Rod, and if that wasn’t bad enough, steals Chan Ho Park’s meatball. It has been said that A-Rod began taking muscle enhancers because his pride was so hurt, and Chan Ho Park took up Jiu Jitsu. The Fifth Circle is Wrath and Sloth, both perfectly personified by Jay Gibbons and his uncanny ability to break the Camden Yards Warehouse windows in practice, yet unconsciously sleep walk his way into steroid allegations and a mop hair cut. The Sixth Circle is Heresy, and how could that not be represented by Jerry Hairston Jr., if not for how close his name is to the word Heresy, but for his current home as a New York Yankee. (See also: Mike Mussina) The Seventh Circle is Violence, whose gates used to be guarded by the Minotaur, until he was caught by Albert Belle trying to take a picture of him at practice, and Belle pile drove him by the horns into home plate at Camden Yards. The Eighth Circle is Fraud, and though I could name drop a full roster of juicers (Palmiero, Roberts, Sosa, Segui, etc.), I will stick with one name, and for a non-steroid related incident. In 2008 it was made public that not only did Miguel Tejada lie about his age by two years, but wasn’t a Tejada at all. He was in fact, a Tejeda. Miguel Tejeda, the nameless, ageless, outspoken, traitor the Baltimore organization.

The Ninth and Final Circle leads us slowly but surely out of the Inferno and into the Purgatory, which is the indifferent acceptance that is the Baltimore Orioles. In the recent one year, 6 million dollar commitment to Miguel Tejeda, the Orioles have made a commitment to this indifference, and they have committed an act of baseball Treason. The tenacious Tejeda gave up his right to play for the Orioles, though who would want it, when he pulled a Damon and went back on his word, and pulled a Ramirez and slacked off to get traded. The Orioles however, unlike the Red Sox will not finish in either of the top two seeds in the A.L. East. They will finish, 4th in the A.L., in a payment of homage to the Purgatory they are and will remain in, until the moves they make are relevant to future endeavors, and not to the trials and tribulations of so many memories of their embarrassing past. Perhaps Adam Jones and Nick Markakis can ride the O’s chariot back to Paradise, but it appears that journey won’t be happening for quite some time.