Sweeney’s Corner – Sept 30th

Wow, where did September go?  Where did summer go?  I always find that Green Day song “Wake Me Up When September Ends” annoying to me.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I have always had a mixed emotion love for September.

Back in the day, I was never one to hate the start of school.  Yes, I was kinda that kid that liked school.  I liked seeing friends again…liked all the extra-curricular activities that came with it.  I have always loved hoodies, and September is the time when you get to break out the hoodies again.

It is a great time in sports too…for me it is the end of baseball season (ya, I survived, mostly!) and start of hockey season!  In terms of spectator sports, I am not sure there is a busier time of year!  So much to talk about, so let’s get to it!

Golf

My good friend Mark Mancini expressed his disappointment last week with my lack of golf coverage.  I am nothing if not a people pleaser, and what a great week to talk some golf!

There can only be one lead, which of course would be the passing of Arnold Palmer.  For my two cents, “Arnie” was more than a legend in this game.  He was as iconic an ambassador for the game as any man in any sport.  You can argue that he brought golf to the mainstream, and brought with it the start of golfers as great merchandisers as well. They trail only Nascar in number of endorsements per square inch of  fabric worn.  He was all class, yet a fierce competitor.  And maybe some of the best quotes in golf.  Two that really struck me;

Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.

I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone’s golf game: it’s called an eraser.

And how do you talk “Arnie” without talking about “Arnie’s Army”, which really was the conduit to golf as a spectator sport, and ultimately a televised sport.

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Important little piece of trivia for you too!  Arnie’s first PGA win was the Canadian Open, in 1955.  That’s cool.

And of course, there is the drink!  When you have a drink named after you, you have established a legacy!

 

Also in the world of golf, the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup were both won this past weekend by Rory McIlroy (a good Irish lad!), and added a little more heartache to the legend that is Dustin Johnson.  DJ really only needed to have an OK day Sunday to secure the FedEx, but his Sunday stumble of 1-over 73 at the Tour Championship cost him a cool $10 million dollars.  To put it in perspective, Arnie won $2500 for that first Canadian Open Title!  All these young guys should be paying homage to Arnie, Jack, and Tiger, for creating the environment where they can make $10 million dollars over a weekend.

Don’t feel too bad for DJ…he is just under $10 million in earnings for the year, and is a new Dad.  Me thinks he is still winning in life…and he has done OK in the stepfather category too!

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Has golf ever been better though?  Yes, I for one miss Tiger, and am still clinging to an increasingly foolish belief that he will return to form, and win another major.  Golf has never been this competitive or compelling though.  Rory, DJ, Jordan Spieth, and Jason Day have all shown moments of dominance over the past 12 months.  And there are countless great golfers in contention to win any given week.  With all due respect to Tiger, he never faced fields this deep in his prime!

Ryder Cup is this weekend, if you need a golf fix. Always interesting how it turns out (and who the American’s blame for losing!), but it has always been missing something to me.  Of course, the “secondary” theme will be how the crowds behave, which has always been my problem with professional golf.  A little uptight maybe?  This guy scored a win for all of us!

World Cup of Hockey

A few takeaways as the World Cup of Hockey ends, with Canada hoisting a trophy much less impressive than Lord Stanley’s gift.

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  • The word I kept using for this Team Canada was “clinical”.  I will admit to being a little behind on my watching, as “adult life” kept me from seeing all of the final, and a blissful weekend at Killbear kept me away from the semi-final versus Sweden.  While they at times appeared “disinterested” or “sleepy” I don’t think they were ever rattled.  Even down late 1-0 in game 2.  Surgeons, despite completing operations where their patients life is in their hands, are calm.  That is the demeanor I saw with this team.
  • If you are a Montreal Canadiens fan, you have to be pretty stoked about the return of Carey Price.  Little doubt that he is back in elite form. He was tested too, this wasn’t the Sochi Olympics, where I may have been able to play goal behind that team.  Price was his usual steady, calming presence.  His return instantly changes the Canadiens’ outlook in the Eastern Conference.
  • Most men would find it a little depressing, going from coaching a ridiculous Team Canada roster, to coaching a young, rebuilding Maple Leafs team.  I don’t think that is the case with Mike Babcock.  I think he relishes the challenge, and is starting to assemble the roster he wants in order to compete.  I don’t think it is this year, but there is more hope than normal for this Leafs team that they will do this rebuild right.
  • These tournaments are so often some lesser known player’s coming out party.  Word Cup 2016 presents Brad Marchand.  Up until now, he was a good Bruin that the rest of the league loved to hate.  He is still on my “Clothesline in an Airport List”, but his skill level is undeniable.  Don’t underestimate the impact this tournament had on his contract negotiations either.  They too saw the chemistry he had with 87, and the stories popping up about him joining him in Pittsburgh.  My initial reaction was that it was a bit far-fetched, but when you contemplate how many wingers have NOT fit with Sid, would it not be almost impossible to “overpay” for a guy who clearly shows that kind fit?  Yep, I think this may have played in the Bruins minds too.
  • Speaking of “Uncle Sid”, not a bad little run he is on the past few months?  Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe, World Cup, MVP?  Yep, I’d say those reports of his demise last winter were a little premature.  I also heard Steve Kouleas make a great point following the game last night on SiriusXM NHL Radio.  He thinks Sid may just be motivated to hold his place as the face of the NHL for a little while longer.  We all know that it will soon be McDavid’s crown, but maybe Sid isn’t quite ready to pass the torch yet.

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Blue Jays

Not much good to say here.  This team just has not been able to find that same spark that carried them on their magical run last year.  What is so disappointing is the offence.  This was supposed to be a “murderers row” batting order, but it really has struggled.  And now, the bullpen is coughing up wins again.  When the year began, it was starting pitching that appeared to be the biggest concern.  Stroman has been a little off, but could we have expected much more from Happ, Estrada and Sanchez?  Liriano now appears to be finding his form to.  But the bats, other than Edwin, Donaldson and Devon Travis, have simply been consistenyl inconsistent all year.

To me, the hitters mindset is just off throughout the lineup.  Too many strikeouts, and to many pop tart fly balls.  At their best last year, they were putting together hits and then hitting the deep ball.  Remember “stir the pot”?  Where did that energy and enthusiasm go?  If this weekend continues to go sideways, you can always look back on the magic of 2015 here.

So what is it?  What is wrong with this team?  Their issues with hitting with runners in scoring position is my biggest frustration – it ultimately cost them in the Divisional series versus KC – and just seems have deteriorated this year.  How many times have they had runners in scoring position, no outs, and not cashed the runner?  Yes, not good last year, as the team batted 0.269 with runners in scoring position.  They are worse this year, at 0.249.  That is a pretty big difference.

The stats don’t lie on this team.  The Jays offence, while still decent, is scoring 4.71 runs per game, well off the 5.5 runs per game of last year.  They have managed just 53 stolen bases, down from 88 last year.  Not that this team ever ran much, “small ball” is a foreign concept to Gibby, who thinks it is a comparison of softballs and hardballs. The big statistical difference though – strikeouts.  The Blue Jays have gone down on strikes 1343 times this year, versus 1151 for all of last year.  There is a reason they now spell Justin Smoakkk’s name with 3 K’s.

I thing the issue is bigger than on field performance though.  I think the mood changed this year, when Alex Anthopoulos was allowed to walk, replaced with Mark Shapiro.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the Shapiro/ Atkins combo has done a pretty good job in baseball terms.  They shored up the bullpen with the additions of Grilli and Benoit, and bringing back Darwin Barney has been a under-rated boost.  What I mean by the mood changing is the lack of movement on contracts for Edwin and Jose.  I think maybe these guys had assurances from AA that they would get taken care of, and new management has not followed through on those assurances.  I believe Edwin has become the emotional heartbeat of this clubhouse, and when he is a little off, that mood is felt.

What is saddest about this is that Edwin very much wants to be a Blue Jay for life.  He has spoken openly about joining the Blue Jays greats on the ring of honor.  I seriously hope that Blue Jays management can find a way to make this happen.  In my opinion, if only one can stay, it should be the man with the parrot.

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Final thought – anyone feel good about the Jays chances in a one game playoff?  I would argue, as good as their starting pitching has been as a group, that any team they face in the Wildcard game will have a better starter going. So it will come down to whether the big bats can send a few deep. Swing away right Gibby.

NFL

Another wild and wacky week in the NFL…and I saw none of it.  Not a game. Strange for me, for sure, but it was too nice a weekend not to enjoy outdoors!

I did get caught up of course on the goings on for the week, and as always will pass on a few random thoughts.

Surprise of the Week

Fly Eagles Fly!  After calling out the ridiculousness of the Carson Wentz “love in ” on Monday Night Football, Wentz and the Eagles went out and crushed the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-3.  I guess that puts me in my place!  Oh and Wentz went out and threw for 301 yards and 2 TD’s.  Color me impressed.  I am not sure I am happy that the “KC East” Eagles gave us a wealth of film to study as my Chefs prepare to face those same Steelers this week…or be angered that we will get a “butt hurt” Mike Tomlin and Big Ben.

Something That Really Bugged Me This Week

Let’s just say the “Football God’s” seemed to be foil me at every turn last week.  My second week in a row going 7-16 in picks.  I guess that is why I don’t post them here.  The fact that the Dolphins needed a missed FG and OT to beat the Browns for my Survivor pick was right up there.  Having to scramble to replace my TE Antonio Gates Sunday morning from the beach…and getting it way wrong by choosing Jared “unfulfilled promise” Cook instead of Jimmy Graham.  And then to top it off Monday Night, I needed a very pedestrian 50 yards from stud Julio Jones to win my week…and getting 1 catch for 15 yards.

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Something That Made Me Smile

This week, I smiled for Coach Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings.  I am sure at some point, this Vikings team will find a way to put my boy Trevor Waldron on a watch list.  They always do. He literally had all his Vikings gear packed in a box for the United Way last year after the playoff loss.  In the Osborne days, I was always entertained by the weekly rants to fire the Offensive Co-ordinator, or Denny Green, for their failures.

But this week was a make-up day for years of suffering.  The Vikings went into Carolina, with no Adrian Peterson, no Bridgewater, no Kalil, no Floyd…and stomped a mud hole in the Panthers.  And they did it with the D!  Eight sacks of Cam (what happened to Superman anyway??), 3 interceptions.  This is what good coaching does, and I think they Vikings have it in Coach Zimmer.  He waited too long for his chance to be a head coach, but he is making the most of it.  Where Bruce Arians gets so much love for his unconventional calls and long path to a head coaching gig, Coach Zimmer does it the old fashion way.  They are good on D, and take care of the football on offence.  And they can beat anybody.

That trade for Bradford was costly, but it looks more and more like money (and assets) well spent. It didn’t just fill a hole at the Quarterback position.  It instilled in the whole locker room that this was not a lost season.  That is so important in a short NFL season.

A Few More Things I Think I Think

  • Have to throw a little love in a direction I really don’t like to, but looking good Denver Bronco’s.  There was no denying that D was going to be good. And lets just say it right here, Wade Phillips is a great D-Coordinator.  He failed as a head coach, but he can coach up a D.  Do you read my column Rex – Wade is the ghost of Ryan’s future!  But more importantly, I see you over there John Elway, you and your brass balls.  Good on you for holding firm to what you believed was Brock Oweiler’s  value, and not caving.  We know that Trevor Siemian is not the second coming of –  well, John Elway – he doesn’t need to be.  This team won the Super Bowl with barely competent Quarterback play, and Siemian is giving them better than that so far.
  • Hey Ryan Fitzpatrick, how is that holdout looking for you now?  Maybe the Jets were right, and you are not a world beater?  Or maybe that Harvard education didn’t cover the difference between green and red.  You may also want to tell your quarterback friends to not throw towards Marcus Peters. Six Picks, that can’t be good!
  • The NFL is a little less fun with JJ Watt shelved.  He is a generational defensive player, a one man wrecking crew from the defensive line.  Get well JJ, a back is not something you want to mess with!
  • Nice to see the Packers look like an offense again…but can somebody introduce Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb?
  • Just when you are ready to write them off, the Bills emerge from the dumpster to win a game they shouldn’t.  This is Rex Ryan in a nutshell.  He simply won’t go away quietly.  I am not sure Rex can go anywhere quietly.
  • Bad news this week that they are finally admitting Sammy Watkins is not right, putting him on IR-designated to return.  Can’t see this offense putting up much without Watkins.
  • Speaking of the Bills, do you think they want a re-do on that Watkins draft trade.  If you recall, the Bills moved up from 9 to 4 in the 2014 draft, giving Cleveland their first and fourth picks in 2015.  Good news – Cleveland hasn’t exactly rebuilt the franchise with those picks.  Bad news – Buffalo, you gave up 2 picks to move up 5 spots in a draft where you could have just selected from a list that includes Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. (wouldn’t he be fun at the Rex Ryan circus?), Brandon Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin.  And that is just the first round guys.  Also entering the league in this draft were Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry.  Sorry Bills Mafia, I feel your pain.

rex

  • Maybe I am gambling a little too much, but I have some upset specials going this week in my picks.  Homer pick of my Chefs over the Steelers, I have the Jaguars beating the Colts in London in a get well game, the Jets beating the East Coast hating Seahawks (who need to sit Russell Wilson and get him healthy!), and the Chargers beating the Saints, who also don’t love the road.

 

I’ve said it all.  I’ve said too much.  Thanks for reading.  And I will leave you with the earworm that is in my head now!

 

PS – Extra marks if you pick up the irony in this song choice?  Not sports related.

 

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Random Thoughts from Sweeney’s Corner – Sept 20-something

I want to apologize to my faithful reader(s?) in advance, this may not get out in time for your Saturday morning read.  It may get out early, but my strong procrastination gene will likely not allow that.  It may not get out until Sunday evening…which would be nearly pointless. Well, if there was a point in the first place.

Truth is, this is a form of therapy for me. I find myself missing the days when I could talk sports nearly all day.  Adulthood gets in the way now.  I am no less a sports nut, I just see many of my fellow sports addicts far less often.  So you, readers, are an outlet for me.  I am sure that is why it is so gratifying to get positive feedback, though in reality, I would write it even if nobody read.  Thank you Doug Millar again for infecting me with this bug.

Without too much preamble, let’s jump right into it, there is so much to get to!

NASCAR

Updating my lead from last week, Fastline Motorsports had some celebrating to do, as by starting the race in Kawartha, Cayden Lapcevich secured the Pinty’s series championship, and title of youngest touring series champion in NASCAR history.    And I am sure it was a celebration worthy of the decades of effort in getting there.  It was pretty cool watching this ride from the couch, and often twitter feed, throughout the year.

Cooler still hearing Cayden interviewed on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio today during the “Trading Paint” show.  Hosts Chocolate Myers and Jim Noble showed genuine joy for this great story, and Cayden’s whirlwind media tour.  For those of you who are SiriusXM junkies, it is available ON-Demand if interested.

Switching to the Sprint Cup Series, the Chase has started, and sadly, not without controversy.  I will admit, I do like the Chase, which is NASCAR’s version of a playoff system.  I didn’t like it at first, but will admit NASCAR got this one right.  Goes against the traditions of racing, but certainly creates excitement, and as close as you can come to a “sudden death” scenario in this sport.

The controversy however, comes from another rules change, and it seems NASCAR can’t get out of their own way sometimes.  This time, it is due to the winner, Martin Truex Jr. (and his Canadian Crew Chief Cole Pearn – whoop whoop) failing post race inspection.  I am not sure I can do this one justice, but let me try.  The team (along with the 48 team of Jimmy Johnson) failed post-race technical inspection.  NASCAR has added a Laser Inspection Station to their tech process, which measures the geometry of the rear wheels of the car.  This became necessary as teams were essentially twisting the rear drive wheels of the car to improve handling (there are more technical terms to be used here, but I don’t think it will improve the explanation).  Essentially, the left rear tire was out of alignment  approximately ten-thousandths of an inch, which was likely caused by contact during the race.  Please keep in mind two things:

  • this is a very small deviation.  It requires laser measurement, and would not be measurable by the human eye.
  • The car passed pre-race technical inspection, so the team brought a legal car to the racetrack.

So, many will say “cheating is cheating”, how does he still win.  This is not cheating folks, this is a rules infraction, that will be punished suitably by fines and/ or point penalty, but is NOT deserving of losing the win.  Taking away the win, and potentially eliminating Truex from the chase, would be as draconian as Mr. Goodell’s suspension of Brady for deflategate.

I understand the angst though – how can you cheat and still win.  Best way I can say it is this. In hockey, you can get a high sticking penalty and still win the game.  You take your punishment and move on.  Same as football, it is essentially a holding call. Illegal, but not cause for disqualification.  In my opinion, NASCAR should not be doing these measurements post race, limit these measurements to pre-race tech only.

And this opinion is not based on a certain ruling at a Delaware CASCAR race in May of 1994, for a quarter of a CC in one cylinder, costing a team a race win.  Nope, just reinforces my opinion that there are gross and minor infractions.

World Cup of Hockey

Once again, a lesson has been learned.  Always trust your gut!  And my growing gut was right on this one initially.  Where to start?

The obvious place is the whole Team North America phenomenon.  What a thrill ride this team has taken us on, and sadly a 2-1 record MAY not get them beyond the round robin.  Game 3 against Sweden, won in OT by Nathon MacKinnon, was an instant classic, that would be diminished somehow if it doesn’t get the young guns in.

What is really clear in watching this North American Team is the evolution of the game.  Hockey over the past 5 years has seen a rapid move away from the size and “truculence” game to a speed and skill game.  Don’t misunderstand that point.  Hockey will always be a “grit and desire” game, it takes a certain amount of courage to play this game at high speed, and go to the areas where you know you are going to get hit. This North American squad is exhibit A in the transformation though.  They are not going to run around the ice and try and outhit anyone.  They are going to play a game of “catch me if you can” at speeds that are simply breathtaking. They do however make and take hits to make plays, and that is the true definition of “hockey tough”

Exhibit B of course is the failed “Tortorella Experiment”.  Game 1 of the exhibition appeared to be Team USA’s holy grail.  I came away feeling a mixture of “could this really work” and a “Canada looked a little annoyed that these guys in red, white and blue didn’t get the memo that this was an exhibition”.  The latter became reality two nights later when Canada seemed to say “OK, we will play this game tonight” and was in bold and underline for the real game.

TJ Oshie was quoted as saying (and it is all over Twitter):

If it comes to 100% skill, they win.  100% grit, we win”

That’s the problem with this Team USA team in a nutshell; this game has never been 100% skill or 100% grit, it has always been a healthy mix of both.

Exhibit C of course is the final exam in this text, Team Canada.  This team, even more so than the Sochi Olympic squad, has been clinical in it’s domination.  It was almost humorous watching Team USA try to “out tough” Canada, and watching Crosby, Thornton, Getzlaf and the boys seemingly ignore them like annoying little brothers.  This Team Canada has that look that can play the game any way you want to .  Speed game, down low game, cycle game…no trouble, we’ll just be better at it than you.  Having said that, still a lot of hockey to play, and don’t for a second think that Sweden, Russia or Team North America will give them a much harder test in the semi-finals than the have seen so far.CANADA US.jpg

 

And I was wrong about another thing too…in a rare occurrence, I think Mr. Bettman was right to give us eight highly competitive teams instead of eight national teams.  This has truly been great hockey!

Oh, three more quick random thoughts:

  • How great is that Ron McLean “intro” or whatever you call it, which goes on to tell us to truly understand Canada, you need to sit down in front of a TV on a Saturday night.  So true.  And just reminds us how great it is to have Ron back in the host seat of Hockey Night in Canada.  The hockey world seems back on it’s axis.  Now just keep Glenn Healy out!
  • Love those commercials which paste together a bunch of great hockey goals/ calls together with kids playing street hockey and re-enacting them.  Pretty much describes my childhood!

Somehow I can’t find either video to insert!  @#(*@#*&@*(&(*

  • Phil Kessel – you won Twitter last night. Well played sir!  (And Grapes you are dead wrong on this!)

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Of course, several players (I hear you TJ Oshie, you too David “did you play in the tournament” Backes) from Team USA were butthurt by Phil’s tweet.  Boys, let me speak for Phil.  He had no ill-will for any guy wearing that Team USA jeresy.  This was a well crafted shot a the management of Team USA.  And it hit the mark with GM Dean Lombardi, who I quote:

If your talking Justin Abdlekader…Brandon Dubinsky…David Backes, I’ll take those guys any day”

That’s the point Dean.  You brought the wrong team.  You don’t need guys that are “tough to play against” in a best on best tournament, where one game can get you knocked out. You need your best players. You need to score goals!  I don’t think Team USA had a good view of what this tournament was going to be.  They didn’t win the last iteration in 1996 “out hitting and out gritting” anyone.  They had the more skilled team on that occasion.  Maybe this also gives us some insight into the slow decline of the LA Kings?

NFL Week 2

I am going to have to hit my quick thoughts here, no surprise I have went a little long.  Any wanna-be editors looking for some pro-bono work?

Surprise of the Week:

Plenty to choose from here, but I am going to save my second for a rant elsewhere.  Has to the LA Rams once again confounding all logic and beating the Seattle Seahawks. As good a coach as I think Pete Carroll is, and as consistently mediocre as I think Jeff Fisher is, why does this keep happening.  Four of their last five against Seattle for the Rams?  Defies logic.

fisher

Thanks Coach Fisher, I am now out of the “Loser” pool!

Something that Really Bugged Me This Week?

This will not always involve the Chiefs.  Mostly because I dont always get to watch the Chiefs.  I am too responsible (read cheap) to buy Sunday Ticket anymore.

No, my beef this week, sort of a new take on last week, was the Monday Night Football broadcast.  Seems John Gruden is trying to be more profanely profuse in his praise than Chris Collinsworth now.  This weeks target was Carson Wentz.  It seemed like a legend was born in a terrible game that saw the Philadelphia Eagles (fly Eagles fly!!!) dismantle the Chicago Bears.

Don’t get me wrong, Wentz has had an impressive start to his career, and is making Howie Roseman and Coach Doug Pederson look really smart. Not only did they draft this kid (hey Cleveland, want THAT draft pick back!) but they traded their starter, Sam “driving range QB” Bradford to Minnesota.  Bradford of course was Collinsworth’s “Man Crush of the Week” Sunday night, and set a high bar on the “blowing smoke meter”.

But if you tuned in to the fourth quarter of the Monday Night Broadcast, you would think he had 450 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Kid threw for 190 yards and a touchdown, for an 86.6 QB rating.  Took care of the ball.  Won.  But C’mon man…lets see how Dennis Green feels.

 

Something That Made Me Smile

Nothing.  It was an awful football week.  Out of the loser pool.  8 of 16 picks right.  Did get through Survivor week 2.  Lost all 3 of my Fantasy Football leagues.

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A few more things I think I think?

  • OK, after the Thursday night victory by New England (another wrong pick), can we just hit pause for a minute. I think the league actually should stop everything, carve a Belichick bust, and put him in the Hall of Fame before another game is played this season.  Also, award him the Coach of the Year trophy right now.  The Patriots are now 3-0 on the season, after dismantling the previously 2-0 Houston Texans.  And he did it with:
    • No Tom Brady, due to the Roger Goodell “prove I am the Man” suspension.
    • With a 3rd String Rookie QB who hurt his thumb at some point in the game.
    • A leaky offensive line
    • A token decoy appearance by Gronkowski.
  • I give him credit, as I usually bash Michael Irvin.  He did a bit in the pregame where he said “if New England wins tonight, I will no longer call the Super Bowl the Lombardi trophy.” and followed up post game with a picture from home that night with his “3 Belichick Trophies!
  • irvin.jpg
  • Thats Twitter Gold right there!
  • I think Cleveland is suffering from the “Curse of Firing Belichick!”  See below for a live look at Browns practice.  Rookie QB, lost their best WR this week in practice. Not good!

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  • Should be a good time for the Adam Gase and the Dolphins to get into the win column.  Spoiler alert – they are my Survivor Pick this week, so you’d be wise to stay away from this game!
  • Can it get any worse for San Diego…now Antonio Gates, the only guy on the offence left who Phil Rivers even knows by name?  Talk about an injury bug!
  • The Anti-Belichick is Rex Ryan.  Just a clown show, he has his bearded lady (brother Rob), the only thing missing from a full on carnival is a Merry-Go-Round and some cotton candy.  No point me going to much deeper on this, except to say “Poor Mr. Pegula.  Please end this insanity.  At least you have the Sabres!  I will leave you with “he’s my guy” Adam Schein, who will give you the full Rex Ryan joke in the link below:

http://www.newyorkupstate.com/buffalo-bills/index.ssf/2016/09/buffalo_bills_rex_ryan_are_a_comedy_show_says_nflcoms_adam_schein.html

Other than that folks, I got to hit send on this thing.  It was opening night Thursday for my hockey season, as the Staggered Edges resumes their spectacular losing ways at the Gateway Center.  Nothing like starting with a 10:30pm game.  This guy is out of shape, and to quote Pierre McGuire, I was “sucking dirty pond water” most of the night.  I will get this posted Friday at some point for your reading pleasure, as I head north for the weekend.

I’ve said it all.  I’ve said too much.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

Random thoughts from Sweeney’s Corner

Going to try something a little different as we head into the fall.  I am an avid sports reader, and my favorite writers, in no particular order, are Peter King, Steve Simmons, and the now retired Jim Hunt.

If you are a NFL football fan, and not reading Peter King’s “Monday Morning Quarterback” column (not to mention all the related content from his website “MMQB”) then you really are missing out.  I would equate it to an East End kid who never had a Glow Sub or Go Go’s pizza.  Sadly only one of those two options can you still correct in your life.

Steve Simmons I know is a very polarizing figure.  I don’t always agree with him, but his Sunday column in the Toronto Sun is another gem, and it is close to the format I want to take here.  Just stream of consciousness thoughts – no deep dive analysis.  I view it more as a conversation starter than a thesis presentation.

Jim Hunt was another Toronto Sun columnist, who wrote a Tuesday column “Things I think I think”.  Again, it was a fun and random ride, and generated conversation well before “social media”.

So, that is the preface.  Open to suggestions here.  I can’t promise this will be a “Saturday am” column, but I expect to get something out there most weekends.  So let’s get to it.

World Cup of Hockey:

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It is a strange thing for a “hockey nut” like me, but I have limited excitement for this tournament so far.  I had hoped seeing those Canada jerseys on the ice last night would have stoked the flames…and it moved the needle, but I am not stoked yet.  I know it will be great hockey, and a gift to us all given the early start.  There are a list of “potential culprits” to my “meh” reaction, in no particular order:

  • It is a blatant cash grab by Bettman, and a potential “bait and switch” to the true test of hockey supremacy, the Winter Olympics.  I don’t want this in place of the Olympics Gary.  Not acceptable.

It is a time of year when so many other sports are gobbling up my attention.  The “real” start to the CFL season (Labour Day – more on that later), the NFL kicks off this week (as does slow cooker Sunday!  Can’t wait for the first batch of chili!), and baseball is finally into the meaningful part of the season (I will also have more to say on this!).

The whole “adult portion” of my life is a little crazy, with work and back to school and back to activities for the kids.

The weather is still awesome.  It almost feels worse to be huddling around a TV now, with a precious few weeks of summer left, than playoff hockey in June feels.  Hockey is what gets us through winter, not escorts us in!

Having said all that, I am sure I will get sucked in once the meaningful games start. Canada has a great shot to win once again.  Please Canada, resist the urge to go all “Chicken Little” over the pre-tourney loss to the U.S. last night.  In my mind, the U.S. played that game like a game 7, and for the first 40 minutes, Canada looked at those blue jersey’s like they were the guy backchecking during a shinny game.  It also looked to me that the Canadian “skill game” was just a little off.  Passes just a little behind guys, puck bouncing a little.  To quote Aaron Rodgers “R-E-L-A-X”.

My only game thoughts from last night:

  • Can we dress John Scott tonight?  The U.S. seemed to go out of their way to take every cheap shot and late hit at Canada.  I say lets give John a 16th minute of fame.
  • I didn’t think I would like it, given Brad Marchand is on my “clothesline in an airport” list…but that Crosby -Bergeron- Marchand line looks very effective.
  • Nice to see Carey Price back, looking like Carey Price.  No issues there, nothing to see, move along.
  • Not sure how I feel about these jerseys in general, but I am definitely solidly in the camp of “it’s enough already with the constant jersey changes”!  In all sports.  Yes, I am becoming a grumpy old man, pull your pants up and get off my lawn!
  • I want to go on the record right now.  The North American “Young Guns” will be in the semi-final.  The U.S.A. will not.

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NFL:

It’s here, it’s really here!  NFL kicked off Thursday night with a Super Bowl rematch, and what a game it was.  A few thoughts from the game:

  • I think we may have been a little premature to right off the Broncos based on the Quarterback position.  Trevor Siemian illustrated nicely why Coach Kubiak felt no need to keep the Sanchize on the roster.  I will steel a Bill Parcell’s line, we don’t need to anoint him just yet, but he showed some moxie in tough spot to start your career.  And let us not forget, he is replacing “Cable” Peyton Manning, not “Dish” Peyton Manning.  With that defense, he doesn’t need to be top 10.  Just don’t turn it over.
  • I think I can’t believe the lack of flags on headshots to Cam Newton.  I have no skin in this game, but it seemed to me there were a lot of headshots, and I mean real head contact, not glancing or inadvertent blows, that went without flags.  I am the first one to complain QB’s are overprotected, but given the normal standard that is applied, it was a glaring lack of penalties.  Me thinks several envelopes will be delivered to Denver this week seeking cheques from Broncos defenders.
  • If there is one thing that can derail the seemingly unstoppable NFL train, it is the lack of consistency in officiating.  I will provide the caveat that I think the NFL and NHL are extremely difficult to officiate at the elite level, given the speed of the games and the ambiguity of the rulebooks.  With instant replay, HD, and slow mo, the stripes are always being second guessed.  Having said that, there are plays in every game that just baffle you.  I am so grateful for the Twitter feeds of Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) for football (he does college too!) and Kerry Fraser (@kfraserthecall) for hockey.  Both gentlemen call it as they see it (not blindly side with the game officials like some TV experts…cough cough “Mike Carey” cough cough.  Both guys have really helped me understand some baffling calls, and sometimes just confirm that I am correct and the call is baffling.
  • I am not going to do a deep dive into the weekly picks for the season. There are plenty of vastly more qualified opinions out there.  I will give my picks each week for your personal amusement:
    • Carolina (stupid kickers!)
    • Philly
    • Minnesota
    • Houston
    • NO
    • GBay
    • NYJ
    • kc
    • BAL
    • ATL
    • SEA
    • NYG
    • DET
    • PIT
    • SF
  • Obviously this is a tough opening week.  Tougher is that in my long time “Stelco boys” pickem pool, we are required to submit 2 Survivor picks for the first two weeks. This tends to cull the herd quickly.  I went Houston and Seattle in week 1.  Why am I showing no confidence in my Chefs?  I know they will win, but I have a long developed rule for Survivor picks – avoid road teams, avoid division games.  Divisional opponents tend to be more unpredictable, given the familiarity that comes naturally from playing twice a year.
  • New wrinkle for our pickem pool is a “Loser” pick each week.  Despite wanting to avoid at all costs having the same game in Survivor and Loser, I saw no better alternative to Miami.  Seattle is good, and has a huge home field advantage, being second loudest building in the league.  (Yes, Arrowhead has the record!)

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CFL:

  • I will admit, I don’t truly follow the CFL, I am that guy that just pays attention to the Ticats.  I am a believer that the CFL season doesn’t really start until Labour Day.  And boy did the Ticats ever make a statement (or two) during the Classic.
    • They are more than capable of beating themselves, as was readily apparent in the first half.  It almost had me finding something else to watch in the second half.
    • Zach Collaros is a difference maker at QB…maybe the best QB we have had under center in black and gold since Danny Mac.  And I could make a case that he is better.  However, I think he needs to win a Grey Cup to take than mantle.
    • Is there something in the league rules that requires Ticat DB’s to be incapable of tackling, and play 20 yards off the receivers?
    • Reality is in the Hammer, if the Tabbies win Labour Day, the season was a success.  Nobody blows like the Argooooooooo’s.

Blue Jays:

  • Saving the worst for last, as this team feels like a polar opposite of last year.  They are playing their worst baseball as we enter the stretch.  Where is the energy from last year?  Why is nobody “stirring it up”.
  • I know I am amongst a chorus of detractors, but I think this team needs a true manager, not a sunflower seed spitting soundbite.  “Hit away” is not always the answer.  How many times can you have runners in scoring position with no outs, and not score?  Good teams don’t do that. It costs them against the Royals last year, and is consistently killing them this year.
  • Sign Edwin – please.  I am not ready for the Jays to go back to irrelevance for 20 years.  I am not ready to lose the Edwing.  And I certainly don’t want to see parrots in Fenway!

 

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Thanks to both of you that got to the bottom. I didn’t promise it would be short.  I hope it was mildly amusing.  Be interested to see what you think.  I doubt it will always be this long…some weeks it will be much longer.  Mr. Pyett was right all those years ago at Hillcrest middle school.  I have verbal diarrhea!

I have said it all, I have said too much.

The Chase for Lord Stanley – Round 2

Well, I am all messed up.  I want to write up my round 2 predictions, as Tampa Bay and the Islanders are kicking us off tonight.  However, in Mr. Bettman’s infinite wisdom (or more likely that of some executive at NBC Sports) we have a game 1 being played on the same night as a game 7.  This has not happened since the 80’s…and for good reason.  It is purely idiotic.  But I don’t want to get too far into a rant here.  But I do smell a top ten dumb Bettman moves list…but I will need a long time to whittle a list down to 10.

Anyway, despite this nonsense, lets get to 3 of my 4 Round 2 previews, and I will add the fourth once the Ducks and Predators figure out who knows the way to San Jose.

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Eastern Conference:

Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins

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OK, maybe I am a Penguins homer, but I am pumped for this series.  So many story lines, as there are old Pens playing key roles with the Caps (Niskanen and Oprik if he can get back healthy) and then there is old Cap Eric Fehr on the Pens roster.  There is of course the the Ovechkin – Crosby matchup.  The best of this matchup might be that these are two teams playing at a very high level – the Capitals obviously were the best team over the entire season, and the Penguins were the best team from March onward. It really sets up to be great hockey.

The Penguins took the season series 3-2, but I am not sure the regular season bears a lot of resemblance to the playoffs all that often.  What we can see are trends.  Good news for the Penguins is that they won 2 of the 3 late season games, but 3 of the 5 games were one goal games.

To me this series comes down to three keys:

  • Can the Penguins D handle the physical toll that Ovi and the Caps forwards will look to place on the smallish Pens.
  • Can the Capitals D handle the speed and depth of the Penguins attack.
  • Can the Pens goaltending committee outplay Braden Holtby.

I think this is going to be a great series.  So much elite talent and skill.  Both teams are deep and balanced.  It is a crutch too often used, but this one likely comes down to goaltending and penalty killing.

Special Teams:

  • Washington finished the regular season with the 4th best PP (22.4%) with the 2nd best PP+PK (107.2%).  They followed that up in round 1 with the 2nd best PP in round 1 (29.6%) and 2nd best PP+PK (125.4%).  All was good here.
  • Except Pittsburgh was the best on both counts.  The Pens entered the playoffs concerned with their 16th best PP (18.5%) , but comfortable with their combined 10th PP+PK (102.7%) rating.  In round 1, their special teams exploded, with a 28.1% PP, and an 89% PK for a playoff best 127.6 PP+PK.
  • Both teams penalty killers will be under enormous stress to win this matchup.

What Could Go Wrong:

  • Too many variables here to list, as this is going to be a doozy of a series.  Yes, I am going to take my Pens, but not with booming confidence.  I think this one could be as tight and back and forth as the Blues – Blackhawks series.
  • Big wildcard here is Holtby as I mentioned earlier.  This is a series that could really cement him as a bigtime elite goalie (for those who have not paid attention to the past two years)!  If he can steal a game or two, and provide the Caps with solid goaltending all series, the Caps are going to be tough to beat.
  • Another factor I alluded to is the ability of the Penguins D to weather another long physical storm. The Rangers hit the Pens D a LOT in the last series, and Washington’s physical forwards will be looking to be even more physical.  This is not a big sturdy core in Pittsburgh, and their most important guys (Letang, Daley and Maata) have had their share of injury concerns.
  • Don’t go to a game 7, as Justin Williams doesn’t lose those.

The Pick: Penguins in 7

Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders:

Again, this series has already started.  The Islanders rode their momentum to a game 1 win.

I am trying not to read too much into this one game.  I think the schedule played a big part in game 1.  The Islanders are still riding the wave of their victory over the Panthers, while the Lightning had the better part of a week to have a mini holiday.  I think the rest is great, but it does take a little time to get back into the mental frame that playoff hockey demands.

That said, this is a dangerous Islanders squad.  They have the feel of those “pesky Senators” from three years ago.  John Tavares looks to me like a guy who knows his time is now.  He veritably willed his way to game 1 and 6 victories in the series.  And he has plenty of help.  The Islanders roll four lines, and their fourth line may be the best in hockey.  It is a “next generation” old school grind line.  They hit everything that moves, and they can play the puck and defend as well.  It seems to me that Greiss should not be able to take a series from the Lightning…but I bet against him once already, and he out-dueled Bobby Lou. I find myself humming some Who “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.

But then, this Lightning team showed me something in round 1.  Yes, they dispatched the Red Wings in a tidy 5 games, but it was not an easy 5 games.  That may have been the chippiest series of the first round.  It was also a very competitive series, with tight games, but the Lightning found a way to win games.

Kucherov stepped up and really showed his sublime skill in the first round, and his triplet pal Tyler Johnson finally looks healthy again.  Yes, they are still missing the “human lottery ticket” Stamkos, but they had no issue winning games so far.  Ben Bishop is a very good goaltender, and he can only build on last years long run.

Special Teams

  • The Lightning entered the playoffs with the 27th best PP (15.9%)looking like an  Achilles heel, worst among playoff teams, with a combined 16th PP+PK (100%) rating is buoyed by a good PK unit.  In round 1, their stellar PK unit operated at 96%, but their PP was third worst among surviving teams.  Improving, but still worrisome.
  • The Islanders brought the 13th best powerplay, at 18.75%, an even better PP+PK  (5th) at 104.2% to the playoff dance.  Round 1 saw their PP operate at 23.8%, but their PP+PK rating (110.5%) trailed the Lightning.

What Could Go Wrong:

  • The clock strikes 12 on the Thomas Greiss pumpkin.  Halak does not appear to be ready and waiting, and Greiss needs to steal a game here for the Islanders to have a chance.  If the Lightning open the flood gates, I don’t think the Islanders can win 6 five games.
  • The physical Islanders get a little loose on their discipline, and allow the Lightning to make this a special teams series.  Me thinks the Islanders want this to be a 5 on 5, roll four lines contest.
  • Stamkos magically comes back and lights it up, providing the Lightning with a very dangerous second line and powerplay.

The Pick:  Islanders in 6

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Dallas Stars vs St. Louis Blues:

I am sorry Dan Balac.  I really am.  I like the Dallas Stars.  I do.  Jamie Benn is among my five favorite players in the game.  The Stars are trying to win a Cup the way the 91 Penguins did (against your Stars)…by simply outscoring you.  I applaud that!  I have Lehtonen on one of my keeper fantasy teams.  Lindy Ruff to me is one of those coaches who just doesn’t get enough respect.

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But I simply don’t like the way this series feels for your boys.  I think the Blues had an exorcism Monday night. A lot of demons were vanquished, and a lot of baggage was removed from a lot of shoulders.  Ken Hitchcock may yet keep his job.  And I fear a looser, invigorated Blues team may just be too much to handle.

This has long been a pair of teams with questions in goal.  For one team, that may be over.  Brian Elliott was a difference maker, not a place holder, in their first round series.  He looked almost unbeatable in getting them to a 3-1 lead, and then held the fort in a very nerve wracking game 7.

The Stars on the other hand, can’t break old habits.  Lehtonen also looked stellar in games 1 and 2, but then he lost game 3…and found the bench for 2 games, before getting the net back and just barely keeping his toe in the crease (pun intended) with a game 6 victory.

The Blues are simply deeper at forward. And much deeper on defense.  And that d-core, with Pieterangelo and Bouwmeester and young stud Parayko, are mobile enough and big enough to handle the elite Dallas lines.

Special Teams:

  • Dallas was the regular season’s 5th best powerplay running at a 22.1% clip, and a PP+PK rating of 104.5%, which is 4th best in the league.  Their power play ran an surprisingly consistent 21.1% PP in round 1, but their PK was obliterated by the Wild, only killing 75% of their short handed situations.  PP+PK is second worst among advancing teams at 90%.
  • The Blues are a well balanced team, sporting the 6th best powerplay (21.8%) and the 3rd ranked PP+PK (106.8%) in the regular season.  The PP was even better in their victory over Chicago (27.7%) but struggled to handle the ‘Hawks PP, only killing 78.6% of their chances, for a 6th ranked PP+PK (106.4%).

What Could Go Wrong:

  • Does one series really erase a decade of playoff futility?  More importantly, are the Blues satisfied having slain the beast?  And can they recover the immense amount of energy they had to use to beat the Hawks.
  • Goaltending will be a question for both teams until one of these guys actually runs the table.  Both Lehtonen and Niemi are capable of stealing a game.  More critically, can the avoid giving one back.
  • Dallas should get Sequin back early in this series, and with Tyler going at 100%, I think the Stars top 6 forwards are more dynamic than the Blues.
  • The Blues continue to struggle shorthanded, and they may take a few more penalties against this Stars track team.
  • Was the Tarasenko – Hitchcock spat more than a heat of the moment thing?  Vlad may be the most important skater in the series.

The Pick: Blues in 7

 

Not to downplay my picks, but these 3 series are all much more difficult picks, and the San Jose vs whoever will be a tough call as well.  I will update with that series tomorrow night once I know he they will play.

Enjoy the second round folks, and hit me with your thoughts.  I missed out on 2 in the first round, and both of those were picks I felt good enough in (Kings and Panthers) that I had significant investments in those teams in the playoff pool.  We can only hope we get more games like that Blues – Hawks game 7, which may be tough to beat for best game of the playoffs.

San Jose Sharks vs Nashville Predators:

OK, so this is the “Sweeney Got It Wrong” bowl, as neither of these teams were in my bracket for the second round.  Both teams get full credits for impressive victories, and I don’t think either team’s series upset was a fluke.

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On the Sharks side, man did they look good.  This was the sort of performance we have been waiting for over the better part of a decade.  Few would argue that the Kings are no joke, and the Sharks beat them in a number of close games, but my overwhelming reaction was that the Sharks looked faster and more dangerous than the Kings.  Brent Burns lead the way for the Sharks in round 1 scoring, when I would have expected (and drafted accordingly) Drew “Give Me My Damn Norris” Doughty to have been a scoring leader.  Shameless plug here – Burns needs to find himself on Canada’s roster for this years World Cup.  Too good not to be included.  Joe Pavelski had 5 goals in the series, and simply adds to his claim as one of the NHL’s under-rated stars.  The deep Sharks scoring continues from there, as the Thornton, Marleau and Couture are all contributing to erase memories of playoff failures past.

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For the Preds, I really think people overlook this team, especially this year.  Pekka Rinne was long lauded as the “reason for relevance” for the Predators, but he was mediocre this year in the regular season.  He was brilliant in the upset over the Ducks, and in my mind stole game 7.  However, this Predators team is not just a bunch of muckers and a hot goalie.  They may boast the best top 4 defense in the league, and while they don’t have an elite line, they do run 4 good forward lines that chip in at key moments.  Case in point, yes the top of the Nashville scoring list contains familiar names of Weber, Neal, Josi and Forsberg.  The top of the list has Colin “where were you all year” Wilson and prize mid-season addition Ryan Johansen is right near the top as well.  I think Johansen is the start of a change here in Nashville, where they are starting to assemble some upper end offensive talent to go with their defense and goaltending.  To top it off, Paul Gaustad, he of the fourth line, was a monster in game 6 in terms of face-offs and game control, and then chips in the game winner in game 7.

Special Teams:

The Sharks boasted the second best powerplay in the NHL (22.7%) and 9th best PP+PK rating (102.9%) for the season (one of the things I sited for a potential upset of the Kings).  In round 1, the PP was an effective 23.8%, but their PK struggled at 78.6% rate.  The Preds may be just what the doctor ordered.

The Predators special teams were a strength for the Predators in the regular season, with a 10th ranked powerplay (19.6%) combining with the 13th best PP+PK rating (100.9%).  These units, as alluded to above, struggled badly in the Ducks series.  Their PP ran just a 3.8% in the 7 game Duck series, and that will have to come around to have a chance to swim with the Sharks. Their PK was respectable at 84%, but their combined PP+PK of 87.8% is easily the worst among remaining teams.

What Could Go Wrong:

  • Martin Jones was called upon to win the goaltending battle in round 1 versus the more established Jonathon Quick.  It would seem a relatively easier assignment to outplay Pekka Rinne, but if he doesn’t, the Predators may keep the good times rolling.
  • The Predators d-core, as indicated above, is very good, and did a great job of keeping a deep and nasty Ducks forward group in check.  They have size and speed, and could really stymie the Sharks forwards.
  • Is there some regression in order here on the Predators side, at least in terms of the powerplay?  I would expect me and 4 friends to be better than 5% on the powerplay.  A unit boasting Shea Weber’s out of this world bombs, snipers Neal and Forsberg, and passers Riberio and Johansen, should not be this ineffective.
  • Aren’t we due for another magical ride by a Peter Laviolette coached team?  Carolina in 2006, Philadelphia in 2010 (albeit in a losing bid).

The Pick: Sharks in 6

 

 

 

Round 1 – How Am I Doing So Far?

This one going to be just an off the cuff look at how my predictions are fairing so far.  Quick analysis – not too bad, but on reflection, I think my picks were too close to the norm.  Or said a different way, I needed more upset specials.  Without further babble, lets get to it.

Eastern Conference:

Capitals vs Flyers:

Where are we: Capitals have a 3-1 lead

What I said: Caps 6

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Thoughts: For most of the series, it has just seemed the Caps have too much for the Flyers.  Too much firepower, too much composure, and too much Holtby.

Seems strange to say it as a lifelong Penguins fan, but I was happy to see Philly get a win.  Ed Snider deserved better.

Have to feel a little bad for Steve Mason, he has truly been victimized, traumatized and vilified in this series.  As good as he was at time this season, this was a  truly “Little Shop of Horrors” party for Mason, who likely will need to wait until next year to post his first playoff win.

None of the things I thought could derail the caps have occurred.  Holtby has been good, but really hasn’t had to steal one. The Caps certainly appeared to get the energy up for the playoffs, and Philly’s physical game has deteriorated to goonery, and the Caps powerplay has taken advantage.

Bottom Line: I expect I am missing the call here by a game.  Caps put Flyers to rest in 5.

Penguins vs Rangers:

Where are we: Penguins have a 3-1 lead (game 4 5-0 win as I type)

What I said: Penguins in 6

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Thoughts: Other than a lackluster game 2 loss, the Penguins have looked faster, more explosive and better defensively (something I am not sure has ever been said about a Pittsburgh hockey club!).

Most amazing, in a series facing Henrik Lundqvist, the Penguins have started two goaltenders with 0 playoff starts, and have a series lead. Jeff Zatkoff started game 1, and was solid early before the Penguins got their legs beneath them, on their way to a big opening win.  He was a little less stellar in game 2 (but in my mind he was not the reason for the loss) so on comes Matt Murray.  In my mind, Murray looked calm and composed in leading the Penguins to a big win at MSG.  More of the same in game 4.

Of my concerns, so far it does not appear that the Pens got hot too early.  They have looked very good at times, and getting Evengi Malkin back from injury only adds to the Pens chances.

Phil Kessel has looked like a committed hockey player in this series.  Eric Staal…not so much.  My new favorite young Penguin is Connor Sheary.  Should I order a new jersey?

Bottom Line: Penguins have a chance to end this in 5, and get some rest ahead of a tough match-up with the Caps.

Panthers vs Islanders:

Where are we: Series tied 2-2

What I said: Panthers in 6

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Thoughts:

Well, I kind of felt this one could be interesting, and to my own detriment, I ignored much of my analysis.  For those of you living under rocks, this has been a John Tavares coming out party.  He has been dominant at times, and his will to win has been evident.

Special teams have been an advantage in this one, as expected the Islanders have performed well. Islanders rocking along at a 30% clip on the powerplay.

Reilly Smith has channeled his inner John Druce in this one, already with 8 points in the playoffs.

This has been a wildly entertaining series to watch, but this is the biggest thing that has startled me.  Roberto Luongo has not been the clear cut best goaltender in the series so far.  He needs to be to get the Panthers to the next round.

Bottom Line: My Panthers in 6 pick looks shaky, I am awful worried the Isles may pull a bit of an upset here.

Lightning vs Red Wings:

Where are we: Lightning have won series 4-1

What I said: Lightning in 7

Dats

Thoughts: This series was my opening night game, given that I was in Detroit, and no bar I went into was willing to put my life at risk for the Penguins game.  I do enjoy both of these teams, and this series has been good, and surprisingly full of”old school” chippy at times.

Kucherov has been dominant at times for the Lightning, and my “sleeper” Drouin has looked like a guy with a lot to prove.  He has certainly given Stevie Y a good problem to have.

Too easy to say goaltending has been a factor for Detroit.  They lost 4 close games, games they could have won with a bounce or two.  Mrazek gave them a boost in game 3, but they simply didn’t have enough to win this series.

I hate it for Pavel Datsyuk, who we may have seen the last of now.  Would have preferred a Kobe-like departure for the cerebral “Magic Man”, but not all endings are written by Disney.  This one appears to be more like Little Caesers.  Not horrible, but not great either.

Bottom Line: It’s over Johnny.  Ken Holland has a lot of work to do to get the streak to 26!

Western Conference:

Stars vs Wild:

Where are we: Stars lead series 3-1

What I said: Stars in 5

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Thoughts: Pretty much what I expected so far.  Dallas far too good for a Wild team without their heart and soul guy Parise.

Kari Lehtonen has been stellar so far when he has needed to be for the Stars.  Still hard to imagine we dont see Niemi at some point in the playoffs, but so far so good for Lehtonen.  No issues so far with goaltending, though there really hasn’t been a significant, sustained push.

Jason Spezza has been a force as well so far, and of course Jamie Benn has been as advertised.

Special teams have not been a huge advantage to either team; the problem there is that Dallas is far superior 5 on 5.

Bottom Line: Pick looks solid here, Stars in 5.  They really need the rest, because they will need the health advantage, facing winner of Blues and Hawks.

Blues vs Blackhawks:

Where are we:  Blues lead series 3-2 (Chicago wins game 5 in OT).

What I said: Blues in 6.

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Thoughts: This series has seen a remarkable amount of controversy.  Coaches challenges, Crawford losing his mind and drawing a powerplay, more reviews, and questionable calls.

Other than that, mostly as I saw it coming in.  Blues have benefited from their depth.  Elliott has had a serious coming out party, he really has been a difference maker in the series.  Close games, overtime games.

St. Louis has also been better on the powerplay (a 33% clip) which has been a deciding factor.  Oh, and this Tarasenko kid is pure sniper.  If you missed it, go look at the highlights.

The Blackhawks to me have exhibited the heart of champions, but maybe the wear and tear of this dynasty run is getting the best of them.  That and the lack of a #4 defenceman.

Bottom Line: Blues can make me look pretty good here, if they can just channel their Karate Kid quotes:

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Ducks vs Predators:

Where are we:  Series tied 2-2 (Ducks win game 4).

What I said: Ducks in 7.

Preds

Thoughts: This one is hard to figure out, and it is not a series I have seen a lot of.  They jumped out to a lead in game 1, and that seemed to rattle the Ducks.  My boy “Real Deal” James Neal got another party started.

So I start to dig into stats to find some reasons for this surprise series.  To try and find some heroes.

Is there a hot scorer leading Nashville?  Not really, Filip Forsberg leads the Predators with 3 points in the series.

Is Pekka Rinne stealing games?  Not really, he has a pedestrian 0.900 save percentage.

I would suggest he was a little better though than John Gibson, who despite the prodigy status, does not appear to give the Ducks the best chance to win. Freddy Andersen stepped in and gave the Ducks a shutout in game 3.

It now appears that after an early wobble, the Preds couldn’t get the knockout on the Ducks.  I think there is some LL Cool J playing in that Ducks dressing room.  “Don’t call it a comeback…”

Bottom Line: Shaky start, but my Ducks in 7 still appears safe.

Kings vs Sharks:

Where are we:  Sharks lead series 3-1.

What I said: Kings in 6

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Thoughts: I don’t know how I got this so wrong.  I should have known, I mean look at those Sharks playoff beards!  They started growing those Canada Day.

Its a 3-1 series, but the games have been close.  Four one goal games. And the games have been fast and intense, really for what I have seen nearly perfect playoff hockey.

The Sharks have been great on the powerplay,at nearly 28%…but the Kings have clicked at nearly 23%.  But in a close series, 2 more PP goals for the Sharks have provided the necessary two wins.

The Sharks best players have been their best players.  Burns and Pavelski have 5 points a piece.  The Kings leading scorers – Jake Muzzin and Tanner Pearson with 3. To quote Paris Hilton; “That’s Huuuuuuuggggge!”

And finally, goaltending.  Surprisingly, Martin Jones (with a 0.922 save percentage) has been just a bit better than playoff legend Jonathon Quick (with a 0.905 save percentage).

Can the Sharks vanquish a playoff demon?

Bottom Line: I am not feeling good about another playoff comeback for the Kings.  It could happen, but this feels like Sharks are in control.

Video Review – Technology to Ruin Sport

OK, my first blog was a whimsical look at sports in my life.  My second blog was a more technical article, breaking down my predictions for round 1 of the NHL playoffs.  This, my third blog piece, will be pure rant.

I can’t take it anymore.

Technology is ruining ALL of the sports I love.  And what has sent me over the edge is not some “my team lost, refs you suck moment”.  It is simply an  “enough is enough” this is getting ridiculous as a fan of the game.  What has sent me over the edge is the Blues – Blackhawks game tonight.  What was a wildly entertaining example of playoff hockey became a farce of sport in the final 10 minutes.  And I think it is the perfect illustration of why video review is ruining not just hockey, but all sport.

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For those of you not watching the game tonight, this was the subject of a coaches challenge on an offside call.  The goal by Tarasenko was taken back based on Lehtera lifting his back foot a fraction of an inch off the ice as puck crossed the blueline.  Full disclosure, to the LETTER of the law, the call was correct.  He was offside.  His skate is not on the ice.  But no player on the ice knew that.  Play continued, both teams competed, and a fair amount of time (i.e. not immediately after) a goal was scored.  The Blues would have been up 2-1.  As it was, they go back to 1-1, and Tarasenko later gets a penalty, and the Blackhawks score a controversial powerplay goal to take the lead.

Sorry folks, I was always told you don’t argue offside calls.  How this ever was included in “Coach’s Challenge” by the NHL is ridiculous.  Not to mention the “Goaltender Interference” reviews, which represents the worst in sports. A poorly written, too much grey area rule then exposed to slow motion, HD review?  The NHL’s Goalie Interference rule makes the NFL catch rule look like gospel in comparison.

Again in fairness, the Shaw go ahead goal for the Blackhawks was a good goal.  Contact with Elliott was not made until puck was in the crease, which per the rule as it stands today is allowed.  But nobody was sure.  Even after several looks.

So, riddle me this? Where has video review improved sport?

  • The NHL, as indicated above, is awful. It is a coin flip, even among experts, what the call will be once it goes to review.  And offsides, this is such a bad application it is laughable.  This is the equivalent of football allowing false starts to be reviewable.
  • The NFL seems to have taken it on the chin repeatedly, with the catch rule, which has left NFL players, coaches and officials proclaiming “I don’t know what a catch is anymore!”  It seems to be a weekly issue now.
  • And don’t get me started on the CFL, which have taken it to the absolute worst common denominator, by allowing pass interference to be subject to review.  PI simply can’t stand up to video review.  There will always be some contact.
  • MLB, long thought to be the bastion of tradition, have resisted allowing balls and strikes to be reviewed, but will look at base plays, foul/ fair rulings, and now slides and interference.  Not to go on a homer rant, but I think the early season ruling in the Blue Jays/ Rays game where Bautista was ruled to have interfered with the second basemen, ending the game.

Bottom line, the beauty of sports is the human element.  It is putting people in high pressure situations, and watching them rise to the challenge.  Mistakes and errors make the games great, as the perfect game in almost all sports would mean nobody scores.  I think that this human element applies to the officials as well.

Have I been guilty of yelling at my TV at the officials over a missed call?  Hell ya.  If these wall could talk!  I will say this though, more often than not, in my mind those guys get it right.  Or at least they used to, before technology came in.  Slowing it down frame by frame, enlarging it 2000x, to see what happened in a split second, has exposed the stripes to a microscopic level of scrutiny that sport simply doesn’t need.  Remember, these officials are generally making these calls, in split seconds, in motion, within the field of play.

So, what has video review brought us?

  • Delays to the game, sometimes to games that are already too long.  But in all cases, delays that suck the energy, momentum and flow from the game.
  • Exposed rules, where the definitions (hello catch rule, I see you Bettman, and I don’t know what goalie interference is either) simply don’t hold up to the spirit of which they were intended under frame-by-frame review.
  • Referee’s who defer making calls (or feel obliged to call what they suspect instead of what they know they saw) because they know that video is there to get it right.  Now to clarify, I am not sure that this is truly the case YET with NHL officials, but it is ABSOLUTELY the case in the NFL.

Agree or disagree, would love to hear your thoughts?

I dont call that progress.  I call it another reason to drink as a sports fan.  Bottom up St. Louis, make it a double.  Win or lose, hit the booze, and dont laugh at your shoes.

 

Sports Have Always Been My Comfort Zone

I have long considered doing this, but it wasn’t until an old friend of mine, Doug Millar, made his own leap, and later challenged me to do the same, that I finally gave in. (Here you go Dougie, your double-dog-dare you, online push has worked!)

I have often delayed in getting started on something almost supernaturally, or perhaps it is simply Sweeney stubbornness (ya, I hear that is a thing. Don’t buy it!).  I was one of the last to get HDTV…I was one of the last to join twitter (and I am now a twit addict…or maybe just a twit).  But here we go, why not make the leap.  After all, I have never been accused of having nothing to say, and anyone who knows me will tell you the limits of 124 character on the Twitter-verse are far too confining for me.

What will this blog be?  I am not sure, it is such an infantile germ of an idea right now.  With all due respect to my friend Doug, who has begun his adventure in a humorous but thoughtful dive into his very existence, it will be nothing like that.  It will be a slightly less blusterous, slightly more literate Coach’s Corner, but with a lot less focus.  I will hit any and every sport that tickles my fancy at that moment.  But never soccer, I would never dignify soccer with my time.  Beautiful game my ass.

In my youth, I was always described as a hockey nut…and at my core, I still am.  Where so many of my friends of childhood no longer play the game, I have ineptly decided to take it on in adulthood.  Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour theory could not be more true when it comes to the game of ice hockey.  I say it all the time – how can I be expected to ever make up for 15 years of minor hockey most of my friends have played.  How do I make up for 3 practices a week, travel hockey, road trips to the far reaches of the province and beyond? How do I overcome a lack of formal instruction, power skating, or ever having been asked to perform a crossover?  I can’t (and I am not just referring to crossovers)…though it doesn’t stop me from holding myself to this impossible standard, or moments of frustration.  Reality is, I have never been a gifted athlete in any arena (unless Newfy Horseshoes is considered a sport, because I consider myself pretty damn good at that!).  I think my most charitable friends and teammates would call me a high effort athlete, a glue guy, and thinking mans player.  At worst, I was a guy people didn’t mind having around for a timely joke or to pass out post game beers.

Beyond that, I am a poolie…if I take even a moderate interest in a sport, it will likely involve some form of pool.  I usually get dragged into a March Madness pool, though like many, I generally do not hold any interest beyond the opening weekend.  I have become a hardcore fantasy football player.  I just entered our work Master’s Pool.  I am in two insanely deep, multi category keeper hockey pools.  And this Sunday, a group of friends, most of whom I have know since our Hillcrest days or earlier, will hold our 25th annual Playoff Hockey Pool.

The format has never changed, some of the teams have, guys have come and gone, but at its core, we likely have 10 of the 16 spots filled by the same guys for 15 years.  Up until about 5 years ago, we did the draft old school, live in my basement, with cut and paste newspaper stats, beers and a large heaping of trash talk.  There is always a running contest of who will try to take a player already selected, though it has consistently been done by the same two guys (sorry Rudgey and Roman, but it is true!).  And it is always so much fun to see how the different strategies play out.  The Hillman’s are the creators of the pool, somehow I have inherited stewardship of it, even though Shawn and Todd have never missed a year.  And usually the “East End Mayor” Terry Hillman joins us, though he still wants to draft Harold Snepsts and Shawn Burr.

Without fail, I will get asked what my strategy is this year?  The truth (and likely most of my pool will read this) – I don’t have a strategy.  With 16 guys drafting 10 players and a teams goalies, a random serpentine draft, to borrow one of my favorite Mike Tyson=ism “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.  This format requires you to bob and weave, react to what others are doing, and change on the fly.  My theory has always been I want 2-3 players from a team in each conference that I think can go the final.  And then 1-2 players from another team in each conference that I think can put up 8-10 points in a round or two.  More often than not, one of those “other teams” making a run will set me up to be in the money.

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Playoff hockey, and the pools, are my favorite.  It is truly a marathon, a grind.  And I think this year is going to be wild.  I don’t think there are clear locks in either conference.  But each conference has their own unique mood.

The Western Conference is going to be a war.  Once again, 2 very good teams with real Cup hopes, will lose in the first room.  It’s just reality.  Think about it, 2 of LA, San Jose, Anaheim and Nashville will go home in the first room, to be joined by at least one of Chicago, St. Louis or Dallas. If I gave you a Cup Final with two of those 7 teams, it would be great hockey.  But half of them are 1 and done.  I haven’t even hit on the fact that those Pacific playoff series are going to be physical hell to boot.  I simply think it is too tough to call on this side.  I worry the Blackhawks have to run out of gas at some point, as the core has played an incredible amount of hockey the past 3 years.  But that core is so sublimely talented, so focused on playing the game the right way and paying the price to win, it is hard to write them off.  I did so at my own peril last year.  The Kings have that look again that they are going to be a tough out.

I will go out on a bit of a limb here.  One of the teams that have seemingly personified playoff disappointment for the last decade (Sharks, Ducks or Blues) are going to come out of the West.  Going to be some late nights in April, as most of this will go down in Pacific time.

Now the Eastern Conference is a very different story…I would not describe there to be seven potential Cup winners on this side of the bracket.  In fact, between injuries and mediocrity, I think there are only three contenders.  Washington has been the best team in the league all year.  They are deep, they are explosive, but this is a franchise haunted by the ghosts of playoff failures past.  But they are certainly a contender, and in some “puke in my mouth as I say it” way, I think this may be their time.  My other concern for the Caps – they are not exactly rolling into the playoffs on a high, but more coasting in having clinched everything.  It is great to get a little rest before the grind of the playoffs, but history has shown that that “Go Switch” can’t always be flicked back on once the real games begin.  I am including Florida on my list for the East, though I think it is a year early for them, but why not.  They have an all world (and Twitter Mastermind) goalie, an underrated, deep defense, and a wealth of emerging forward talent.  Oh and did I forget the man, the myth, and the legend, #68?

Which takes me to my third contender {HOMER ALERT…HOMER ALERT – I must declare myself to be highly biased here, as a lifelong Penguins fan.  And I have the never to fit again #66 jersey to prove it!} the Pittsburgh Penguins.  This spring has been the March of the Penguins, as the coaching change has lit a fire under this team.  Do I have concerns, hell yeah.  This team has been a perpetual fraud since 2009.  Marc Andre Fleury has been more fragile come playoff time than a box of beer at a Friday night East End bush party.  Their best players (ya, looking at you Uncle Sid) have seldom risen the challenge when the times get tough.  The defense to my liking is a little soft for playoff hockey.  The powerplay has been an embarrassment given the wealth of talent.   So there, I have hit all the usual criticism and some that maybe not everyone has pointed out.  But there is a different vibe to this team right now.  They have some youth that can play.  Speed kills, and they have plenty of it. In my opinion, MA Fleury has been a brick house the past two playoffs (they have lost despite his excellence).  And for the first time since the ‘Ol 29er Phil Bourque was running amok in the 90’s, they can legitimately roll 4 lines, with guys that can hold a stick the right way, and identify the net at the far end.  And with that, I have likely cursed them to a 4 game sweep.

Well, one thing I didn’t promise was to be short.  As my middle school gym teacher once proclaimed, I am prone to bouts of verbal diarrhea.  I hope someone out there found this a useful distraction for 5 minutes, or got a couple of chuckles.  I doubt I will be this long again, but there is so many other topics to cover.  Until next time, win or lose, don’t laugh at your shoes.

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