Thursday, December 4, 2008

Yes, it really is a bad thing...

Well, he did it again and quite frankly, no one should be surprised by it. I am, of course, referring to Sean Avery's obviously rehearsed insults directed at Dion Phaneuf through the media and the immediate backlash that ensued. No surprise that he did this... it was actually a fairly shrewd move on his part seeing as Phaneuf and Iginla would have destroyed him had he played that night. I happen to think the suspension was merited and could care less if he is ever allowed to return to the ice! I could go on at length about this topic but it has already been beaten into the ground and Tom at HCtB already said it better than I could have (with quite the title I might add).

No, the title of this blog is actually referring to the disaster that is the NHL All-Star balloting and the fact that some people are actually trying to justify the potential of a Canadienne starting lineup. Reading this actually made me quite annoyed so I decided I would pick apart the argument piece by piece...

For starters, from an atmosphere-in-the-arena point of view, can you imagine how loud, how crazy, how overwhelming it will be when the starting lineup is announced and the East is represented entirely by the bleu, blanc et rouge? Montreal fans, who need little to no reason to break into song at any moment, will be bellowing themselves hoarse. It will be a scene to remember, probably one of the top 10 moments in Bell Centre history. This is called an “ends justifying the means” argument.

Wait, aren't the Canadienne fans supposedly the best in the league? If that were truly the case, why would they need a reason to 'bellow themselves hoarse'? Shouldn't the simple fact that they are hosting the game be enough? Good hockey fans shouldn't need for the starting lineup of an All-Star game to be comprised of their favorite team to get excited about attending the game.

Oh, and seeing as the Bell Centre opened in '96, are we really supposed to be all excited about its potential for being one of the 'top 10 moments' in its history? It's only been around for TWELVE years!

Another situation that has been raised is the Rory Fitzpatrick fiasco of a couple years ago, when Canucks fans nearly voted in the journeyman defenseman despite the fact he was a regular healthy scratch in Vancouver. The difference this time is, these six Habs are integral to Montreal’s fortunes. As mentioned, Koivu, Markov and Tanguay deserve to be in the game, period. And you can make a case for the others: Komisarek is a stay-at-home, physical force; Kovalev might not be playing up to his own lofty standards, but he’s still Montreal’s most dangerous forward; and, there’s no doubting Price’s caliber and upside.

So the starting six for every other franchise is immaterial to the team's fortunes? What makes the Montreal sextet more deserving than Boston's starters Lucic, Savard, Kessel, Chara, Ward and Thomas? Hell, four of those six merit inclusion anyways while Ward and Lucic are certainly more deserving than the inconsistent twins, Kovalev and Price! So why shouldn't Bruins be the AS game starters? They have better stats than the Montreal starters (31-48-79 +42 compared to 25-50-75 +20; 1.88GAA, .940% vs 2.40GAA, .920%) and are on a better team!

Good things are ahead for them and, by extension, the Canadiens. Besides, it’s not like Kovalev is bumping Crosby right out of the game; he’s just bumping him out of the starting lineup. And, finally…c’mon, folks, it’s the All-Star Game. Like the All-Star Game in every other sport, it doesn’t really matter and nobody cares too much. Go out, have fun, put on a good show for the fans and, for heaven’s sake, don’t get hurt. As a player, that’s all you really have to do.

No, Crosby will still get to play in the game... there is no doubt about that. Same goes for Malkin and Ovechkin. However, the league will have to use three spots that should have gone to more deserving players who may not get a second opportunity. Assuming the roster is filled out with the top scorers for each position, that would leave a number of more deserving candidates out in the cold. As it stands now, this will be the AS-roster with the TRUE starters in bold...

D - Markov, Komisarek, Streit, Hainsey, Green, Kuba
F - Koivu, Kovalev, Tanguay, Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Gagne, Savard, Semin, Richards, Carter, Parise
G - Price, Thomas, Lundqvist

Of the six Canadiennes, only one merits starting... the other five honestly don't even merit inclusion! Komisarek (1-0-1) knocks out the more deserving Girardi (3-12-15, 6th in D scoring), Rozsival (2-12-14, T8th) or Wideman (6-7-13, T10th).

The starting trio of Kovalev (5-13-18, T31st in F scoring), Koivu (7-14-21, T18th) and Tanguay (8-9-17, T37th) knock out three more deserving players, including Vanek (18-5-23, T12th), Zherdev (9-15-24, 11th), Kessel (13-7-20, T23rd) and/or Backstrom (6-17-23, T12th).

Price (8th in GAA, 7th in %) locks out Auld (3rd GAA, 5th %) or Anderson (4th GAA, 1st %) from getting onto the roster.

I selected these nine players for a reason... all have had far superior production than the Canadiennes starters to this point in the season and none have ever played in the All-Star Game. For those people who say the game is pointless and means nothing, tell that to the players! Tell that to Tim Thomas and Marc Savard who saw last year's addition to the roster as a career-making moment... these two players had been criticized for their style and play throughout their entire career. To finally attain the honor of making the AS roster meant they had truly arrived... they were considered among the best in their profession and no one could take that away from them. If you think that first AS bid means nothing to the players, then you are a fool. It especially holds true for any player who has had to go through adversity to get to this stage in their career.

You think Phil Kessel wouldn't be thrilled to make the game? It would prove that you CAN overcome testicular cancer and develop into a three-zone player and get recognized for your efforts. You think Tim Thomas wouldn't consider the AS start (which he deserves) as the greatest possible salve for all the garbage he had to deal with throughout his well-travelled career? Some of these players may never get another chance at being an All-Star... being considered one of the elite. So you talk to those players and then tell me the game is meaningless and that it is a good thing the Montreal sextet gets to play when more deserving candidates are left out in the cold. Truly pathetic.

Oh, and for those Canadiennes fans complaining about the inroads Crosby has made in the voting, did you ever think that it was your own doing? All fans around the league have been annoyed by your actions and are responding by trying to oust your unworthy candidates by pushing the more deserving players. As for Whitney and Gonchar being the highest non-Montreal vote-getters for D-men, the same rule applies... had Montreal not stuffed the ballot (electronically or not), Pitt fans would not have done so either. Canadienne fans have no right to complain about something they caused in the first place...

Monday, November 24, 2008

21 down, 61 to go

Before the season began, I predicted the scoring totals for the players I expected to stick with the club. Seeing as the Bruins just played their 21st game of the season (thus passing the quarter-mark), I figured it was a good time to revisit those predictions. Not surprisingly, some of the players were sent back down (Noke, Sobotka, Schaeffer) or just sent away (Alberts... poor guy) so I will focus more on who is left with the team.

Player........................G - A - P
Patrice Bergeron...........16-39-55
David Krejci................20-35-55
Marc Savard................31-74-105

P.J. Axelsson................0-26-26
Milan Lucic..................23-27-50
Marco Sturm................26-26-52
Shawn Thornton.............4-12-16

Phil Kessel...................39-23-62
Chuck Kobasew.............23-54-77
Michael Ryder...............12-31-43
Blake Wheeler..............23-12-35

Zdeno Chara................16-20-35
Andrew Ference.............0-34-34
Shane Hnidy..................0-9-9
Mark Stuart..................4-0-4
Aaron Ward..................0-12-12
Dennis Wideman...........20-20-40

Totals: 257- 455 - 711

Goalie........................GP - W - GAA
Manny Fernandez...........27 - 20 - 2.55
Tim Thomas.................55 - 35 - 1.80

Record: 55-12-15 125 points

Obviously these numbers are based on their current pace and are unlikely to hold up over the season. What really surprises me is the fact that my admittedly generous record, goals scored and goals allowed are actually proving underestimations. I was just hoping the Bruins would manage to put up close to 246 goals and 100 points... instead they are on pace for 257 goals and 125 points! My predictions were actually fairly accurate in most cases and I am most proud of pegging Lucic as nearing a 50-point scorer (predicted 48, pace for 51).

The obvious outliers are Bergeron, Krejci, Ryder, Kobasew, Kessel, Ference and Chara. I definitely seemed to misjudge Kessel and Krejci while I expect Kobasew and Ference to come back down to Earth (though will still have good seasons from both). Chara has been finding his game recently so I am less concerned by his numbers. My real worry is that both Ryder and Bergeron have been underperforming thus far... makes me question whether having the offensively challenged Axelsson on their line is really a good idea. Once Sturm recovers from this 'upper-body injury' (what the hell happened to him??) I really think they should move Kobasew up to the second line (Sturm has played too well with Krejci to move him). Chuck has been a great spark for us thus far and you have to think his physical game and play-making ability could only help Bergeron and Ryder find their games. Then again, they are winning games so why fix what ain't broke?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Tour of Boston...

First stop, the Fens.
It was announced this past week that Dustin Pedroia won the AL MVP award (by a surprisingly large margin I might add). Certainly did not see this coming... even doubted my girlfriend when she proclaimed he would win it all the way back in July, saying medium-power balding midget two-baggers don't win MVPs. Looks like I was proved wrong and I have never been so glad!
Going into the vote, I was concerned that he and Youkilis would split the vote and allow someone to sneak in and steal it from them. However, I soon realized that Minnesota fans were battling the same concern with the Morneau/Mauer ticket and the fact that we made the playoffs all but ensured the win for Pedey. As TATB said, I still find it hard to believe that little Dustin Pedroia now has an MVP while past and current Red Sox greats like Manny, Pedro, Ortiz and Nomar have none.

There is even the question of whether Youkilis was the more deserving Sox for this award and he certainly had a strong case (though it only earned him third). My view on the matter is that Pedrioa and Youkilis were equally valuable to this team... it could not have succeeded without both players, from both a performance and leadership standpoint. With that in mind, I am glad that Pedroia took home the hardware in this instance seeing as the more powerful Youkilis is more likely to get another crack at this award. After all, table setting second basemen who bat second in the order rarely outshine cleanup-hitting first basemen. I just hope that Youk is able to take home some hardware of his own in the future.

Next stop, Foxboro(ugh)
With the sudden development of Matt Cassel as a NFL-level quarterback (thanks to that 400yd exclamation mark Thursday), there have been questions regarding his future. Some people advocate keeping him over Tom Brady while others think he needs to be re-signed and then traded once Brady's healthy. Frankly, these people make no sense and I question just how much football knowledge they actually possess. There is no way Cassel takes the paycut with NE to serve as a backup another year nor would he sign only to be traded... it just makes no sense. If you were Cassel, wouldn't you rather choose your employer and get a fresh-start with your new team rather than get sent to whoever gives NE the best haul? I know I certainly would. As for relieving Brady of his services, that is just daft... he is far too good a QB and it would wreak havoc on the salary cap (10.3M hit in '09)... it is just out of the question.

Last stop, the Causeway Vault
Still can't come to believe that the Bruins lead the Northeast division, and essentially the Eastern Conference (2 game deficit to NYR with 3 to play... you do the math). I mean, I saw them improving on last year's surprising playoff position but I was figuring we would get a 4-6 seed at best, not a top-three! Granted, it is still early but they have been playing so well lately that nothing seems to faze them... I mean, how many teams win handily after giving up 3 goals inside of five minutes to a divisional foe? Just unreal.

For those who still don't believe they are real, consider the following stats:
3.21 goals per game, 6th in NHL (Detroit leads at 3.65)
2.16 goals allowed per game, 2nd in NHL (Minnesota leads at 1.94)
+1.05 goal differential, 2nd in NHL (San Jose leads at 1.10)
21.3% PP efficiency, 6th in NHL (Detroit leads at 32.4%)
81.3% PK efficiency, 16th in NHL (Minnesota leads at 93.8%)
3-0-2 when opponent scores first

Clearly, by those stats, Boston is a top-5 team if not top-2 (behind SJ). Two things really jump out at me though... first, the penalty kill has really rebounded from an atrocious start. A few weeks into the season Boston was mired at the bottom of the league with a PK efficiency hovering just over 70%. Now it is at a respectable 81% which is a profound improvement over such a short time and I can see it steadily improving from here on out into the 85-86 range. The second surprise is our record when opponents score first... not only the fact that we have been very successful in that situation but that it has happened so rarely. We have scored first in 14 of 19 games thus far which goes a long way to dispel any questions about this team's performance and skill level. The fact that we have managed 8 of a possible 10 points when scored upon first is even more telling, as it shows the type of heart, determination and leadership this team has on a nightly basis. It doesn't matter if the Bruins are scored upon first, they never look at themselves as being out of any game and that is an amazing quality to have and will lead to considerable success. Hell, with that record, maybe we should always let them score first on us and end up with a 49-0-33 record and 131 points... or maybe not and we can just stick with what is working!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hockeytown, USA?

Does Detroit really deserve the title? Or is Boston more deserving?

I have been mulling over this question for the past couple months as it randomly comes up in hockey conversations. Originally, I had planned to write about the NHL's policy, or lack thereof, regarding suspensions after illegal hits in the wake of the Van Ryn incident. However, I was beaten to the punch by Tom at HCtB which proved quite fortunate for me seeing as my attempt at the topic would have paled in comparison to his well-written and carefully thought-out masterpiece. So instead, I will write about this trivial matter... onwards to the debate!

NHL Success:
– Founded in 1924, Original Six member
– Seventeen Stanley Cup Finals appearances, Five victories
– Marquee players: Bobby Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque

– Founded in 1926, Original Six member
– Twenty-three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, Eleven victories
– Marquee players: Gordie Howe, Terry Sawchuk, Steve Yzerman

At first glance, Detroit clearly holds the advantage here based on Cup victories but when you look at the facts, it is no longer quite so clear. The majority of their victories (7 of 11) are tainted by the grossly unfair practices present in the early days of the NHL. For the majority of its infancy, the NHL did not have an amateur draft but instead enforced an exclusivity policy. The policy ensured that franchises had absolute rights to players living within a 50-mile radius of their city. This was clearly detrimental to Boston, New York and Chicago as they were therefore blocked from the majority of Canadian prospects. (That is not even considering the fact that both New York and Boston are port cities and thus half their territory would be the Atlantic Ocean!) Detroit was mostly unaffected by this unjust policy since talent-rich southern Ontario fell within its territorial boundaries. This absurd policy remained in place until the advent of the amateur draft in 1963 but it had a major impact on all six franchises throughout the rest of the decade.

A second situation working in Detroit’s favor was its owner James Norris. This powerful figure actually controlled all four American franchises through varying means (purchased Chicago through a syndicate, major shareholder in Rangers, held mortgages for Bruins), allowing him to neglect them to further the causes of his Red Wings. Evidence of his lack of investment can be seen when looking at NHL playoff history from 1941 to 1970 as the trio only managed one Cup victory (Chicago ’61). It is even more evident when considering the fact that the ‘Haves’ only missed the playoffs in favor of a ‘Have-Not’ eight times over the three decades! Needless to say, Boston (as well as Chicago and New York) were at a major competitive disadvantage and any early NHL success should be reconsidered appropriately.

Local Success:
– Hosts the Beanpot, arguably the most famous amateur hockey tournament in the US.
– Four D-1 NCAA hockey programs (Northeastern, Harvard, BC, BU)
– Eight NCAA Championships in twenty-one appearances (4 and 11 in past 2 decades)*
– 161 NHL players**

– One D-1 NCAA hockey program (U of Michigan 45 miles away)
– Nine NCAA Championships in eleven appearances (2 and 2 in past 2 decades)*
– 111 NHL players**

Boston has a clear advantage in this regard, especially when considering that Detroit’s only collegiate presence is actually in Ann Arbor (but was included for arguments sake). The difference between the two is even more resounding when you consider the fact that the majority UofM’s success came in the 50’s while BU and BC have dominated the 90’s and 00’s. Add in the sizeable advantage in NHL talent Massachusetts holds over Michigan and it would seem clear that Boston is more deserving of the title of Hockeytown, USA.


* BU: 4-5 record, BC: 3-6 record, Harvard: 1-2 record, UofM: 9-2 recordYears of titles and appearances can be found here.

** Based on birthplace starting in 1918. Minnesota leads the way with 193 NHL players, with MA and MI second and third respectively. Values found here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

History repeats itself?

History repeats itself…

Watching hockey highlights over the weekend, I came across the Kostopoulos/Van Ryn incident and I couldn’t help but flashback to October 27th of last year. The date is burned into the minds of Bruins fans as day we nearly lost the face of our franchise to a dirty, illegal hit from behind into the boards. The thing that really disturbed me about the play was just the sheer similarity. In both instances, the guilty party had time to pull up and either avoid the hit all together or greatly reduce the impact. Instead, the ‘attacker’ decided to go in full steam and exacerbated the situation with the downward thrust to the shoulders. Had the check been a straight hip check, the injuries would have been far less severe as the body would have absorbed most of the impact with the boards. Instead, the shoulders were pushed downwards focusing the impact force onto the head and leading to serious injury.

Now the question becomes, what punishment will be brought down on Kostopoulos?

Bergeron-Jones incident results:
– Jones 5 Boarding, Jones 10 Misconduct, Kobasew 2 Roughing
Injury – Severe concussion, broke nose
Time Lost – Remainder of season and postseason
Punishment – Two game suspension for Jones

Kostopoulos-Van Ryn incident results:
– Kostopoulos 5 Boarding, Kostopoulos 10 Misconduct, 2 matching Roughing
Injury – Concussion (severity unknown), broken nose, broken hand/finger
Time Lost – Remains to be seen… minimum of one month
Punishment – Remains to be seen…*

Thankfully, Patrice Bergeron has managed a full recovery after being lost for the remainder of the ‘07-‘08 season. Hopefully the same will be true for Mike Van Ryn, preferably with a shorter layoff. I will be very interested to see if Kostopoulos is suspended for the hit... I get the upsetting feeling that he will get off with a slap on the wrist just like Jones did...


On an unrelated note, I came across this link on the Boston Globe’s Bruins Blog and just had to share it… it is amazing to read everything Thomas has had to deal with to even get a chance to play in the NHL. Fortunately for him (and Boston), he has taken the opportunity presented him and run with it straight to the top of the NHL.

*Edit: Kostopoulos was suspended by the NHL for 3 games this afternoon. While I am glad to see there was a suspension issued, it comes with some concerns for me... for one, only three games? Seems pathetically low for such a serious injury, though I thought the same thing about Jones's two game suspension, which, of course, is my other concern. Why the difference in suspensions when the plays were nearly identical? I realize it is only one game but it is still different and its the principle of the matter.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Is there a trade in the works?

The question must be swirling through the Bruins locker room after word came down that Vladimir Sobotka has been assigned to Providence. He was reportedly told that he would return to the big club after this weekend.

Now considering the move only, it makes sense for the Bruins... Kobasew is expected back for Thursday's game and Sobotka has been a healthy scratch for most of this time with the parent club this season. Sending him down allows him to actually get some ice time in a game environment and continue with his development. It also allows Kobasew to get back on the ice while keeping a forward in reserve (Noke?) should anything happen.

Obviously, all of this is fairly elementary and any Bruins fan can understand the reasoning behind this move, whether they agree or not. The big question is, what's with the quick return? Obvious trade candidates are Fernandez (unlikely with massive contract), Axelsson (cheap defensive presence) or Sturm (underperforming)... I don't see any of these happening but who knows... should prove interesting.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Meaning of the NHL...

Perhaps it stands for the ‘National Hypocrites League’? Or maybe the ‘No Headshots but everything else goes League'? (Okay, I admit that last one is a bit long, but I couldn't come up with anything better!)

I am of course, referring to the uproar that has arisen in the wake of Doug Weight’s injurious open-ice hit on Brandon Sutter. There have been complaints that Weight was head-hunting and calls for a lengthy suspension. However, after viewing the footage a handful of times it is very hard for any educated hockey fan to call the play anything but a clean hit. Sutter had his head down and put himself into a vulnerable position while in traffic… how can he not expect to get hit. Don’t get me wrong, I sympathize with Sutter and never want to see any player injured but the fact remains that this was from a legal hit. With all the publicity this hit has received, you would think Doug Weight was the next Ulf Samuelsson, not a guy who has been suspended a total of 4 games (11/7/03) in 16 seasons (1141 games). Clearly, he is not the dirty player he has been made out to be.

At the same time, there are players like Steve Ott and Sean Avery taking liberties with opposing players and attempting to injure getting off scot-free. I have searched through both ESPN and SI in hopes of finding some ink dedicated to their dangerous and reckless play… all I managed to find was this one small snippet. So Ott goes low on two players (Yelle and Lucic) and leaves his feet to check a third (Stuart) but is never penalized for any of it (despite visual evidence on two of the hits). Of course, Ott refuses to fight after any of these plays and can be seen searching desperately for a ref as if he were looking for his mother to save him from the playground bullies (Thornton and Hnidy). Thankfully, Ference laid him out with a brutal but clean hit (note the elbow is tucked-in to the body) and then accepted Avery's challenge and landed a few blows (before Avery realized he was going to lose and played the coward; pulling out Ference's right leg from under him to prematurely end the fight and save himself a pounding).

So after three dirty plays from Ott and a fourth from Avery (hit from behind on Lucic that started the melee) there is hardly any publicity on either site but an outcry over a legitimate hit. Where is the logic in that?? It make no sense whatsoever. Do players need to be injured for there to be any mention of this style of dangerous play? Or do the players in question have to be stars who deliver clean, hard hits? Lord knows there was no similar uproar after Randy Jones's or Scott Hartnell's illegal hits (nice lead with the elbow to the dome byHartnell). What was the punishment for the illegal hits that ended the season of two Bruins? Two games in each instance. TWO GAMES. So now they want to complain about legal hits while they let illegal hits either get off completely unpunished and unpublicized (a la Steve Ott) or with a slap on the wrist. How does that make any sense? Bunch of f*cking hypocrites...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

NCAA Hockey

If you go to Northeastern University, there really is not much to take pride in when it comes to athletics. The lone bright spot is the hockey team which even then is a middle of the pack team in Hockey East at the best of times. Then again, when you play in a league with annual powerhouses BC, BU, UNH and UMaine, middle of the pack does'nt seem half bad. Since I started there in 2000, the highest NU has climbed in the conference standings was 5th in '01-02 (a first round playoff defeat). So you can imagine my surprise when NU beat reigning national champs and #1 ranked BC (45/50 first place votes) two weekends ago to improve their record to 3-0-1. They followed that up last weekend with a 5-0 and 3-2 win AT UMaine, a very tough place to play where they had lost eight of their last ten games. So now they sit atop Hockey East with a 5-0-1 record (4-0 in conference play) and have climbed to #9 in the national rankings. Knowing Northeastern, this is not going to last so I thought I should take it in while I can...

Speaking of hockey, Tim Thomas has been playing out of his mind and led the Bruins to back to back 1-0 road wins against solid western conference opponents (Edmonton and Vancouver). Can he extend the streak to 183 minutes tonight against Calgary and close out the successful road trip in style? Certainly would be nice...

Monday, October 27, 2008


I was fortunate enough to get free tickets to Saturday's game against Atlanta through a friend who won them but could care less about hockey. Back row loge seats in the corner aren't the best but hey, the price was right! Proved to be one entertaining game and the best part of the evening actually had nothing to do with the game. At one of the many stoppages in play, the announcer started talking about a soldier serving in the army and images of him were being displayed overhead on the jumbotron. Not much of substance was being said at first... your typical thanks for serving etc. What got to me was the fact that the applause slowly built up and kept doing so until a few people started standing up eventually leading to the majority of the Garden being on its feet applauding this soldier for a solid 2-3 minutes. It turns out, he re-upped and is being deployed to Iraq this coming week and the Bruins were honoring the season ticket holder with a custom-made jersey. I couldn't believe the ovation he and his company received from the crowd, especially since most of it came before the announcement that he was even present at the game. Definite goosebump moment... made me proud to be a Bostonian and more over, an American. More info.

As for the game... well, it was definitely a rollercoaster ride. The first period was atrocious with the Bruins being completely outplayed. Atlanta outshot them 16-7 and it honestly seemed worse than that. Just no urgency and no one working to get their shots and making the extra play. The worst of it came in the final minute of the first period when it was 4-4 with Atlanta's penalty due to expire before the period ended. Now I can understand holding the puck in your zone and simply trying to play keepaway when there are only 10-15 seconds left on the clock. The Bruins decided to try this tactic while there were 40+ seconds left and at even strength... needless to say, it backfired and Atlanta potted the PPG with ten seconds remaining in the period. Simply pathetic... there was no effort from Boston to try to clear the zone never mind attempting to start something on offense. As stated elsewhere, its a bad sign when your checking line (Noke, Yelle, Thornton) is your best line for a period...

However, sometimes seemingly bad things can actually prove quite beneficial as was the case when the fourth line (14 total goals last season) potted the first goal for the Bruins. I can only imagine the (well-deserved) dressing down Julien gave his team after that atrocious first period but whatever was said certainly worked. Lucic took it from their and simply dominated the game, scoring three goals (his first career hat trick) and assisting on a fourth. His final tally came with under two minutes to go in regulation and was all effort as he fought for the puck along the boards before being sprung by Savard (who deserves much credit for his forechecking on the play). Lucic had the patience to wait for his shot when he saw Kessel was too covered and then he roofed the rebound to start the hats raining and take the much-needed two points.

It was a unique experience to be present for his first hat trick (and my first attended hat trick) and see the dozens of hats come flying down onto the ice. I had just bought a new Bruins hat and was contemplating adding my old Sox hat to the pile but the netting and 26 rows ahead of me changed my mind. Well, that, and the fact that I can't just throw away a good, broken-in hat... especially one that has witnessed a championship ('07 Sox). Hell, I still have the 'hat' (more like disgusting rag) I wore from '01 to '04 that was retired after the Series win. What made it that much more special was the fact that Lucic became one of my favorite players last preseason when I spotted him on his first shift of a game against Toronto. I immediately turned to my girlfriend and said he was going to be something special... he is quickly proving me correct.

Now the problem is... who's jersey do I buy? I fully intended to buy a black Bergeron before the game but they were all out and would need 2-3 weeks to restock. Now I am questioning that decision... with jerseys being so expensive it is always tough to come to a decision on who to buy. After the 2005 season, I had decided on buying a Brad Boyes (26-43-69 in '05) jersey but never ended up following through on it and its a good thing I didn't given the trade. Now I need to decide again and obvious choices are Lucic and Bergeron but I don't want to be one of the many people wearing the same sweater. So is it the standard 17 or 37 or do I go with the unusual 46...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

World Series

With the Red Sox losing game 7 of the ALCS, a game they had no right even playing in, there will officially be a new World Series champion. The nice thing is, the two teams vying for this honor are actually two of the losingest franchises in MLB history instead of two franchises accustomed to perennial success. Now the question becomes, who to support in tonight's game 1?

First off, lets compare the historical stats... Philly has been around since 1883 and has lost more games than any other franchise (8942-10093 for 47.0%) and has one WS title to its credit (1980) in six attempts. Tampa has been around since 1998 and has by far the worst winning percentage (742-1037 for 41.7%) which is including their 97-65 dominance this season. (Depressing to think they entered this year with a 645-972 record for 39.8%... sub 40%!!!). Going into this postseason, I would have been fine with either of these teams winning (though I of course wanted Boston or the Cubs to win it)... after all, who doesn't root for the perennial loser to finally win big? It is practically bred into us that Americans have to support the underdog and Tampa is the extreme underdog considering their miserable history.

Then I thought about it all... they have only been around for eleven years! They have no right taking the title from a team that has existed for a full century longer than they have... one that has lost over 5 times as many games as Tampa has PLAYED! The fact that Philly has only one title to show for those 125 seasons just makes it that much more apparent that they are the more deserving franchise.

Delving even deeper into the comparison, one arrives at the fanbases of these two disasters to discover an even more telling statistic. Philly averaged 42K fans per home game compared to 22K but these figures alone mean little... after all, Boston only averaged 37K per game and no one can doubt their popularity in Boston or their fans' devotion. The reason is, Fenway Park is one of the smallest stadiums in MLB and the 37K average represents a 104% attendance rate which is simply astounding. With that in mind, it is the attendance rate that truly matters, NOT the raw attendance figures. This past season, Philly was fourth with 97.1% home attendance while Tampa was a pathetic 24th with 52.8%. [Top five: Boston 104, Cubs 99.1, Tigers 98.6, Philly, Yankees 92.3] Philadelphia fans also travel better than their Floridian brethren, coming in 14th road in attendance rate (72.7%) compared to Tampa's 24th (66.5%) [Boston once again came in first with 84.1% a full 2.5 higher than the second place Cubs] Now, I grant you that Tampa has been atrocious for their ten season existence, having never posted a win total higher than 70 (2004) but that by no means makes up for a division winning team (that led said division for most of the season) only filling HALF the seats! Had they not played the extremely popular (and well-travelling) Red Sox and Yankees for 18 of their 81 games at home, they probably would have been below the 50% barrier and exceeded only the Florida Marlins (hmm... anyone notice a trend here?) Quite simply, their fans just don't deserve the title anymore than their franchise does... hell, their franchise deserves a hell of a lot better fans!

The final reason I have for pulling for the Phillies... the ridiculously fake fans in Tampa. Suddenly everyone shows up for the playoffs and decides to support them only AFTER they have proved themselves. The team even went so far as to open up some 8000 seats that had previously been tarped over! [Their excuse for this was that they had bad sight-lines... big deal, so does most every seat at Fenway but those tickets still sell! My theory is they were tarped over to make inflate their attendance figures to barely respectable numbers a la the Oakland A's shutting down the second level.] Now everyone is a die-hard Rays fan who has followed them their whole life (even though they are in their 20s and 30s...) and bangs their cowbells while sporting their trendy 'Rayhawk'. What a joke! They are pathetic. They are just the latest in a long trend of bandwagon jumpers (the Red Sox sadly have far more than their share), something I absolutely detest. The majority of their fans have no clue about the history of their team, their league or anything else... they are just jumping on the hot new trend of the day, only to forget about it within a couple months once the next shiny object catches their eye. I actually had a Tampa 'fan' try to tell me their attendance wasn't that bad and that it mirrored that of the Sox in the 90s. When I informed him via email that we last had attendance lower than 18K (their highest value after their debut season) was in 1966 (1966!!!), he countered by sending me the attendance figures for each stadium during its first eleven years. Problem is, Fenway opened in 1912 so he is trying to compare Tampa's 1998 attendance with that of Boston's from 80+ years prior! Just absolutely laughable and goes to show the 'knowledge' and 'loyalty' of their fans.

With all that in mind, here is hoping the Phillies take the title and end the city's tormented sporting history (so long as the Flyers keep sucking!). I don't really like the city or the fans, but they are a far more palatable option than are the Tampa Bay Rays...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Call me Nostradamus... (Part 2)

So this came a little later than expected but work interefered (three weeks of travel)...

Without further ado, here are my predictions for the upcoming season in terms of goals, assists and points. Have to get them up before the season commences after all... if I can get around to it, I will include some more information on here.

Player........................G - A - P
Patrice Bergeron...........27-45-72
David Krejci................12-30-42
Petteri Nokelainen..........6-5-11
Marc Savard................22-78-100
Vladimir Sobotka............2-8-10

P.J. Axelsson................6-12-18
Milan Lucic..................18-30-48
Marco Sturm................30-27-57
Shawn Thornton.............2-4-6

Phil Kessel...................20-20-40
Chuck Kobasew.............24-18-42
Michael Ryder...............30-25-55
Blake Wheeler..............12-25-37

Andrew Alberts..............1-9-10
Zdeno Chara................15-40-55
Andrew Ference.............2-10-12
Shane Hnidy..................2-6-8
Mark Stuart..................2-8-10
Aaron Ward..................4-10-14
Dennis Wideman...........10-22-32

Totals: 247 - 432 - 679

Goalie........................GP - W - GAA
Manny Fernandez...........30 - 16 - 2.88
Tim Thomas.................52 - 31 - 2.55

Record: 47-29-6 100 points

Admittedly these are on the high side but a guy can always hope, right? Besides, a second year in Julien's system and the return of Patrice should help the team a lot in 2009...

(Note: apparently formatting on blogspot completely blows... will have to work on figuring that out...)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

If I pretend hard enough that it never happened, can that make it so?

Of course, I am refering to the devastating hit to the Super Bowl chances of the New England Patriots with the loss of Tom Brady for the season. Watching it live, I saw the hit, knew Brady took a good shot and would be hurting but had no idea it would be nearly as bad as it was. Then the replays and pictures and replays from better angles came out and there was no question... we had just lost our quarterback and face of the franchise. So while contemplating the future of this season I came to the frustrating realization that I was going to have to steer clear of any football articles on ESPN or SI for the simple fact that the trolls would be out in force.

Well my curiousity got the best of me and I decided to go and look at some comments with surprisingly mixed results. There are of course the people who act like Brady's injury is some karmic payback for the 'Spygate' bullshit (not even going into my opinion on that) or for running up the score last year. They cheer that another human being is severly injured and I just can't comprehend that any mature, rational human being could find such an event to be gratifying. I don't think I ever would have openly cheered if Peyton Manning or Derek Jeter were injured, even during the height of my anti-Yankees sentiments (post 2003 ALCS).

After reading these people I started fearing for the future of our society but then the unexpected happened... there were actually decent people who supported other teams but were still sympathetic towards Brady and the Patriots! Most of them expressed sadness that one of the NFLs best was out for the season and what it meant to the rest of the league... that any win over the Patriots now comes with something of an asterisk. Most of these people were even fans of our strongest challengers for AFC supremacy; the Chargers, Colts and Steelers. For the past seven years (if not more) we have been a thorn in the sides of these teams and their fans and have developed a healthy distaste for one another. So it came as quite a surprise to see these rabid fans of our bitter rivals unhappy about the loss of Brady and the removal of the Patriots as Super Bowl favorites. Looking at it now, it makes sense though... all those teams want to go through us to take the title and they want to do it with as at full strength so there are no excuses. Just as the 2004 Red Sox World Series title would not have been complete had we not exorcised our demons and defeated the Yankees, any title for San Diego would not be complete without taking care of us first. I am not going to lie... the sympathy from these fans actually restored the faith in humanity I had lost from the immature posters and even took it higher than where it started...

As for the Patriots, I see them as a 9-11 win team that takes their division but loses in the playoffs. I just don't see them pulling it together like in 2001 to win the title without Tom Brady but I have most certainly been wrong before. There are even silver linings in this injury... for one, we were in a lose-lose situations... win the title and everyone says we were expected to... lose it and we choked. Now, we are in a win-win situation... we have an excuse for any level of failure, whether it be failing to win the title or failing to even make the playoffs... win it and we are labeled the greatest organization in NFL history. The team now goes back to the mentality of our previous title-winners when they could play the 'Nobody believed in us' card and it will be 100% legitimate. Mind you, I don't believe it will actually happen but then had someone told me seven years ago today that we would win the title that year, there is no way I would have believed them and look how that turned out. We still have a supremely talented team with an excellent coach and what looks to be a favorable schedule so winning is not impossible... stranger things have happened.

This whole ordeal makes me think of a quote from one of my favorite authors... the first half is especially fitting for the circumstances surrounding the Patriots and Brady's injury (even works to some extent for the Red Sox now that I think of it...)

"Never forget that when they all love you there is something awry. Every scapegoat was once a star, and every star will soon fall. Let us never forget, again, that we all love to celebrate the failure of our heroes. We live in a world of scapegoats because we all want the same things in our evil, evil hearts. Let us never forget that the same crowd that cheers at your triumphant entry will be the ones to crucify you in the end. And in the search for a moral, consider: The very thing that is worth dying for is the very thing they will hate you for." - A.Schwab

Friday, September 5, 2008

Flashback to 98...

NHL 98 that is... on the good old Nintendo 64, my first hockey game since the epic Blades of Steel. What does this have to do with the Bruins you ask? Well, when I got the game the Bruins were of course terrible (starring Allison, Khristich, Carter, Bourque and rookies Thornton and Samsonov) so I played as the far superior Colorado Avalanche which boasted Stephane Yelle as its 3rd or 4th line center. To be honest, I didn't think much of him at the time but grit and defensive-minded forwards don't usually translate well to the digital world so it is no surprise. However, knowing the type of player he is I like the signing, especially considering that it is fairly cheap for another Axelsson like player. With this addition, I would think the lines would change slightly with Yelle taking over for Sobotka on the fourth line. More likely however, my guess is that this opens the team up for a trade since we now have 24 NHL-caliber players for a 23 man roster. This would also free up some cap space for team that is spending right to the limit. Therefore, the question becomes who is most likely to be traded.

Schaefer - Disasterous debut season in Boston, especially considering his $2.1M salary. Still, he has the talent to merit more consideration so my guess is he sticks around for some of the season. Trade option would be a team like the Kings who are rebuilding and are WAY below the salary floor.

Kessel - Has not yet lived up to his potential though seemed to wake up after being benched in the playoffs. One of our best trade chips since he is so young and talented but the fact he is on a contract year means he will probably produce for the team and make others less likely to trade for him. I would like to see him given another year to mature in Boston.

Axelsson - Longest tenured Bruin who plays a similar game to Yelle for $1.1M more. Would definitely free up cap space but would hurt the team from a defensive and PK standpoint. Could still see him going based on his age and somewhat diminishing skills.

Alberts/Ference - Both young defensemen making $1.3M/$1.4M respectively who have shown promise but could be replaced by cheaper options in Hnidy, Hunwick and/or Lashoff.

No trade - Most likely outcome in my eyes... I see the Bruins demoting Reich (and saving his $500K salary) since there is no need for Shawn Thornton lite when we have the real thing and better players available for the last roster spot. My only concern with this is that it leaves little playing time for young guys like Nokelainen and Sobotka who may be better served from further development in the minors. Question is, how does that affect their confidence after spending most of last season with the big club and doing everything asked of them? Will be interesting to see what Chiarelli and Julien ultimately decide to do...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Call me Nostradamus... (Pt 1)

Who knew the 16th century crazy Frenchman was a Bruins fan! As I previously mentioned, I have been on something of a Bruins kick lately so I thought I would put down some predictions for the upcoming season. Start with the easy stuff... line combinations:

Sturm - Savard - Ryder
Lucic - Bergeron - Kobasew
Schaefer - Krejci - Kessel
Thornton - Sobotka - Axelsson

Chara - Wideman
Ward - Ference
Stuart - Alberts


Healthy scratches: Reich and Hnidy.
Cavalry: Nokelainen, Wheeler, Lashoff, Hamill.

Swap Kobasew/Ryder - Kobasew showed promise last season playing on the top line and in my mind brings more grit and toughness to protect relative finesse guys Savard and Sturm. At the same time, Ryder would probably do better with a gifted assist-man like Savard centering him and boosting his confidence after last years debacle. Could see it going either way... Ryder is the more talented of the two and his status as the big FA acquisition means he will probably get the majority of time on the top line.

Schaefer - the obvious roster question after he was a flop last year... I heard talk of a foot ailment for much of last season contributing to his poor showing but seen no hard evidence (articles etc) regarding it so I may just be making that up. Still, he showed signs of life in the playoffs and 2.1M is a lot of money (and supposed talent) to healthy scratch...

Kessel - What to do with him? Possible breakthrough came during the playoffs when he realized an all-around game was required to play under Julien... definitely the best hockey of his young career. If he can follow that up with similar play to start the season, it will be hard to keep his talent and pedigree off the second line and could force Lucic down to the third line.

Lucic - Second line too much for the kid? He is only 20 after all and second line of an expected playoff team may be a bit too much pressure for him and may stunt his development. At the same time, he performed admirably last year, was a major spark plug for the team and has consistently won at all levels of play prior to his unexpected tenure with the Bruins. Also love the fact that he will drop the gloves (and absolutely punish his opponents) when needed, thus protecting Bergeron. I expect big things from him this season...

Goalie-go-round - who gets more starts? Fernandez's salary implies he should be the starter but Thomas's performance over the past few years cannot be ignored. For his career, Thomas is 73-62-0-20 with a 2.80GAA and .913% in 155 starts on some TERRIBLE Bruins teams. On the other hand, Fernandez is 127-115-24-8 with a 2.49GAA and .912% in 281 starts, mostly on the playoff-caliber Minnesota Wild. Personally, I prefer Thomas... never thought too highly of Fernandez but his more standard technique and higher potential (better single season GAA and save percentage) may give him the edge in this contest.

Bergeron - The biggest question of the season. Can he come back from the illegal Randy Jones check that could have cost him his life, never mind his career. Will he be gunshy and unwilling to go into the corners after the puck? Will he be playing scared, listening for footsteps coming up behind him? Or will he recover like an invincible young athlete and return to the promise of stardom that he displayed with his 70+ point seasons on poor teams. My money is on nearly full recovery and I expect big things from him as well... along with Lucic, he is (hopefully) the future cornerstone of this ascendant organization.

As for what those expectations are, I will be back later in the week for Part 2 and a look at my optimistic view of the point totals...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Changing of the guard?

It is strange... I, just like most everyone in and around Boston, have always split my fandom between the Red Sox and Patriots. It only made sense, growing up playing Little League and Babe Ruth baseball then transitioning to high school football. Both parents are also big Red Sox and Patriots fans and so they were always watched during their respective season and I had a wealth of information on the rules and history of the sports through my father's encyclopedic mind. They are the sports I know best and in which I show the most aptitude (which believe me, is not much!) and so it startled me when I came to a recent realization... the Bruins are my favorite team right now. The BRUINS?! When the hell did that happen?? I never even played hockey... I can't even skate!! Hell, I only started paying any mind to the sport about eight years ago when a high school friend got me into and it was the only decent sport at Northeastern (for comparison, my interest in baseball and football have existed since before I can remember).

However, I have hardly been watching the Red Sox and don't have the typical level of anticipation for the opening kickoff of the Patriots season but I absolutely cannot wait for the puck to drop on the 08-09 Bruins campaign. Don't get me wrong... I have kept up to date on Red Sox news and check the box score of most every game and will watch a few innings at a stretch but it is nowhere near the typical passion I have had in years past, watching every inning available to me. Same goes for the Patriots... I know who we have signed, drafted and brought in to camp and have followed their progress through the internet but I couldn't tell you when their season starts or who we will be playing in the first few games. Instead I find myself turning to any source I can find for Bruins and NHL news, even going so far to peruse Boston Globe reader forums which are full of useless, whining 'fans'. Who knows... maybe it has something to do with the investment I made in the upcoming season; a 12-pack of tickets for my girlfriend and I, a first-of-its-kind purchase for me. Maybe it has to do with a championship hangover and media overexposure hangover for both the Red Sox and Patriots. Maybe it has to do with wanting to see the underdog black-sheep Bruins come through when the majority of Boston fans have turned their backs on them and given up... being one of the few supporters to get on before the bandwagon started picking up speed (like it did for the Celtics where 'life-long fans' materialized with every win). More than likely, it is a combination of all these factors. Whatever the cause may be, I suddenly find myself in the strange position of being focused on the Bruins above the Red Sox and Patriots. Hopefully, they reward my newfound devotion by living up to their considerable promise and making a deep run in the playoffs...

Monday, August 4, 2008

My Rules of Fanhood

There are many rules in life... some matter, many more don't. In the real world, the following rules don't matter but this isn't the real world, it's the world of sports where they are of the utmost importance...

1) No sports bigamy allowed.
I cannot stress this enough... you CAN NOT be a fan of two teams in the same sport... it just doesn't work! What happens when they go head to head? A true fan supports his team regardless of the opponent but last I checked, you can't support both teams in a contest. The biggest copout is the 'fan' who says they are happy whichever team wins. How can you be a fan if you are happy your team loses!?

2) Team colors only.
This can also be referred to as the 'Pink Hat Rule.' As the Red Sox ascended to MLB dominance over the past decade, there was a rise in bandwagon fans and the ownership realized they could cash in on this by introducing pink colored apparel for these so-called fans. Unless your team had pink alternate or historical uniforms, there should be NO pink apparel whatsoever.

3) Support the local team.
If you grew up in an area that supports a professional franchise, you should support that franchise. It only makes sense to do so... it shows loyalty to your city/region while also giving you something in common with friends, coworkers and even strangers to shoot the shit about. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule:

3.1) Supporting your father's/family's team. If your father supports a non-native team because he grew up in that region, it is acceptable to share his loyalties for the purposes of familial harmony and paternal bonding.

3.2) Franchise relocations. This is less common than 3.1 but still viable for older sports fans. If your team up and leaves only to be replaced years later, you are allowed to support the original franchise (though why you would want to is beyond me... they left you after all!).

3.3) Know someone on the team. I almost had this situation... a high school teammate of mine made it to the NFL as a special-teamer for a season so I followed that team (the Bills) a little more closely. Had he stayed in the league (and not been such a complete asshole) I may have had to think about changing allegiances. Thankfully it never came anywhere close to that, but I can understand why it could happen for others.

4) Know your game.
If you are gonna debate/discuss the game with fellow fans, have a clue about the history of the team, its players and the sport. Don't go spouting off with unverified facts that prove to be inaccurate or start talking about players based on the opinions of others. This is especially true when dealing with fans of a rival team since you will only serve to make your fellow fans, and thus your region, look bad.

5) Have some objectivity.
Basically, don't be an unabashed homer. There is nothing worse than the guy who says Kessel is better than Wayne Gretzky, Alex Ovechkin or any other proven non-Boston player, past or present. Just because they are your team does not mean each player is the best at his respective position... that is what the All-Star game is.

6) No comparing eras.
This relates back to 5... players from different eras cannot legitimately be compared to one another. The technology and rules of the game have progressed so dramatically with time, especially within the past two decades, that it just cannot be done. The fact that Bonds hit more home runs than Ruth does not make him the better player... for all we know, Ruth would have hit 1000+ home runs had he been born 40 years ago. Or he may not have even made it to the bigs. The point is, there is no way of knowing with all the differences between their times... just appreciate each for what they contributed to the game (or detracted in the case of Bonds).

7) Respect the past, live in the present.
This relates somewhat to #4 as you should know the history of your team and be proud of it. At the same time, don't go around boasting of the franchises successes that occurred long before you were born. This is especially true for fans of the Yankees, Canadiens and Celtics as they are clearly the historically dominant teams of their respective sports. I mean, who really cares if the Yankees won 26 titles if only 4 of them have come during the past three decades!

8) No membership card needed.
I only know of one instance where this rule can be applied but I fear there may be more in the future. The instance to which I refer is that of the recently discovered 'Red Sox Nation' (God I hate that term) and the teams implementation of membership cards. To put it simply, if you need a piece of paper to prove your fanhood, there is NO WAY you are a true fan (especially if you have to pay for it!).