Thursday, July 30, 2015

2015-2016 National Hockey League Preview: Teams 19 and 20

19.St.Louis Blues-In sport, I like to work under the premise that every team works through a window of opportunity in having a realistic shot at a championship. I've come to the  conclusion that this particular window for the Blues has passed them by hence my extremely low ranking for one of the better teams in the National Hockey League a year ago. Also note, this ranking is based off of the teams likelihood of winning the Stanley Cup, not necessarily regular season performance based. After losing T.J Oshie in unarguably one of the worst trades in hockey history which I will touch on in the forward assessment, the Blues have to show me that they're willing to endeavor in  strong, organizationally altering tactical changes to be taken seriously.

So about that T.J Oshie trade which I quickly referenced in the opening paragraph, just awful. Doug Armstrong, who learned under Bob Gainey's wing with the Dallas Stars during the years which saw the Stars bring the state of Texas a championship back in 1999. The Stars during that era had a excellent combination of youth and veteran leadership that led to the Stars trotting out an aspiring franchise year after year. If their was any merit to the philosophy, which I don't necessarily agree with because I think a team at the end of the day that exudes itself in success, and I kind of touched on this in earlier previews, is winning trumps experience and if you give me twelve forwards that are twenty two and under yet have received a sample size of winning, I'll sign on these players any day of the week. Back to the Oshie trade, because for the millionth time I went on a rambling tangent, the trade doesn't do any favour to a team that is "win-now" mode. In recent memory, I've seen better transactions out of New York Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson who makes trades public before informing his players only to renege on a deal later on at his own discretion. Getting Troy Brouwer back does NOT make this team better even though I have respect for him as he was part of a core that turned the Moose Jaw Warriors back to respectability in the mid 2000's. If you know anything of young star Jaden Schwartz, he's a tremendous young man as at such a young age he and his family have dealt with adversity unimaginable to the common folk. Losing his sister to cancer, Jaden has shown unbelievable resilience as is already considered a leader in the Blues locker room at the age of twenty three. In order for Schwartz to take that next step on the ice, getting stronger and hitting the weight room hard is essential. Having the luxury of growing up in Western Canada, I've had the privilege of watching Schwartz develop as a player all the way back to his days in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and I know for a fact even though he potted twenty eight last year, more can be had out of him and the Blues need that because aside from Vladimir Tarasenko, there's not a lot of pure offence in the stable. Watching Patrik Berglund play, the word enigma comes to mind. Berglund has a power forward frame but yet plays softer then Mike Ribeiro. I can only speculate how frustrating it must be for St.Louis Blues ticket holders watching Berglund always have the pass first mentality and always skate around disinterested. Ken Hitchcock must consistently fume during intermissions because of Berglund could put it all together, he has the makings of being an elite player in the league. The Blues have yet to see the fruits of his labour.

In urban pop culture the term "Ride or Die" seems to be gaining steam. If I were to carry over that terminology to the St.Louis Blues then Alex Pietrangelo is the team's "ride or die". I don't think I'm being drastically blunt when I say that Pietrangelo is a top five defenceman in the National Hockey League. He's such a smooth, calm puck mover that has grown and nourished into a premier power play quarterback. The one issue that I have with Alex is I've seen a noticeable differentiation between the confidence he shows in the regular season and the confidence, or lack thereof he showcases in the playoffs. For a team that's been hell bent on succeeding in the playoffs, it's crucial that the number #1 d-man practices the same principles he's accustomed to in the regular season. As I've done previously, I like to profile someone who gets zero recognition. Case in point Chris Butler. The hometown kid, born and raised in St.Louis finally came home but it was his workload with the Calgary Flames two years ago that really got me fired up.  You're probably thinking, how does a player who had the statistical line of a -23 deserve any optimism, well....throw that stat out the window because two years the Flames were an incredibly bad organization and the fact he produced sixteen points in that charade boasts well for his future.  I foresee Butler filling a top four role this year so once the year finishes, the question of " Who the heck is Chris Butler?" will cease.

The endless debate on who should start between Jake Allen and Brian Elliot will seemingly continue in 2015/2016. For what it's worth, and I wouldn't of said this two years ago because until recently this goalie left a sour taste in my mouth, would be that Jake Allen should get the nod. I think the decision to ride Allen in the first round series against the Minnesota Wild alienated Elliot, and I can see a scenario where Elliot becomes a trade chip, because I can't imagine this former All-star will accept a back-up role once again.

20.Colorado Avalanche- I struggle with this ranking greatly. On one hand, this team is mired in dysfunctionality from the management down as for starters they have in coach in Patrick Roy that is so crazy he makes Bruce Boudreau look sane. On the other hand, this organization has some incredibly talented specimen as was impressively evidenced during their 2013/2014 Cinderella surprise run. This season could go one of two ways(basic math here), either this young nucleus accepts Roy for who he is, or the team tunes out Roy so hard that this team skids to thirtieth overall Usually, I write in stern absolutes but in this particular case I'm leaning towards them finishing somewhere in the lower half to middle.

I don't generally touch on future prospects, but I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss 2015 first round pick Mikko Rantanen. Not including the obvious Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, he's one of the few from his draft class that I feel are ready to take the splurge. Already listed at a whopping 6'4 211, he's physically adept to compete with the big boys and it would serve Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic wonders by allowing another one of their prized possessions to get his feet wet with the rest of the kids already slated to be up. Prediction time: Rantanten will be the third finalist for the Calder trophy behind Eichel and McDavid. To continue to harp on my perceived dysfunctionality of this Avalanche club, by no means do I feel Matt Duchene is being utilized correctly. Maybe with Ryan O'Reilly being shipped out to Western New York this will allow Duchene more leeway because what I'm witnessing is a player who has Markus Naslund-esque skill but is afraid to make a mistake. I remember watching the 2009 draft on TSN, and some who were doing panelist network at the time were implying that Duchene may very well have more skill then the player picked first overall that year, John Tavares. It's safe to say we can disregard those comparisons now but the point I'm trying to set in stone is that Duchene has that kind of potential and fifty five points in his twenty four year old season isn't near good enough. Continuing with Duchene, there seems to be some kind of disconnect between player and coach because throughout the year he was being stapled to the bench during key situations. Joe Sakic has to step in and be the arbitrator and fix this situation between Roy and Duchene because not only are you losing productivity out of a world class player but also it's a diminishing asset if by some god forsaken reason you elect to trade the Haliburton,Ontario native. Not exactly a household name for the Avalanche is Patrick Bordeleau. I fully am aware that the art of fighting is fading out quicker than Jeremy Lin's laughable attempt of still being a competent NBA point guard but I don't think Bordeleau should be labelled just a fighter, he can provide more if given the proper resources. A knee injury was a devastating blow to his 2014/2015 campaign but I'm hopeful for his sake he can be shown the confidence from the coaching staff to be trusted on the fourth line because his skating is deceptive and somewhere deep inside is an important game changing play.

The big piece sent back the way of the Buffalo Sabres was Nikita Zadorov. Zadorov reportedly wasn't gelling well with his Sabre teammates and a change of scenery was probably best for both sides, but the talent level is extraordinary. Zadorov was given one of the best coaches to learn from in junior, Dale Hunter and a lot experts believed that Zadorov would break that Russian mold and reputation they're so often attached to from his country but if you take the reported Sabre issues at face value, it's the same old song and dance. He plays bigger then his 6'5 frame indicates which is a scary proposition for forwards blazing through the neutral zone, but has to be more conscientious about where he positions himself in the defensive zone as he has been a minus player the last two campaigns. Probably not invited to Oren Koules' next party(to understand that reference google Len Barrie Oren Koules ownership) Tyson Barrie if he keeps up his rapid growth will continue to get invited to fan parties all over Denver. So his dad may left a black mark pertaining to ownership of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the only black mark Tyson has been leaving lately is rubber debris inside the net. The smallest defender on the team by a long shot he plays such an important role for Patrick Roy because he can be the catalyst to the Avalanche's instantaneous offence. His speed is reminiscent of Kris Russell and to be quite honest and I see a of similarities with the way they play and to quote a Paramore song, "the only exception"  between the two is Tyson is much more polished defensively early in his career. Another quintessential note I wanted to make pertaining this D-core is the amazement I have over journeyman Nate Guenin. This is Guenin's fifth team dating back to his time with the Philadelphia Flyers all the way back in 2006/2007. His statistics continue to improve year to year, and if you're a fan of sport which I most certainly am, you just hope Guenin's feel good story will continue to evolve.

Semyon Varlamov will be the man between the pipes once again. I can't imagine the intimidation Varlamov must feel coming to the rink each and every day being observed by one of the league's greatest ever goaltenders in Roy. As much as I've made clear that Roy has a bat crazy personality I can't help but think Roy would put his goaltending wisdom to good use and be able to point out any tangible faults he sees is Semyon's game. Varlamov is a good, if not great goaltender in  his own right but I just don't see it being enough to lead the Avalanche back to their distant 2013/2014 successes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

2015-2016 National Hockey League Preview: Teams 17 and 18

17.Minnesota Wild-When Chuck Fletcher signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter back in 2012, the expectation wasn't just to squeak into the playoffs every year but that's exactly been the case thusfar with this regime. Granted they've provided their fanbase with back to back upsets in the first round(Colorado in 2014, St.Louis in 2015), the design that Fletcher had for this team when he handed the keys to the city to Parise and Suter was to be perennial Stanley Cup Contenders. Goaltending arguably has been a set back in recent Wild memory but that excuse can only be carried so far and it's time to put up or shut up in Minnesota in a year where Fletcher sits on the hot seat.

Who is the player up front that contributes the most, but gets talked about the least? If this were Jeopardy, it would be "Who is Erik Haula". Coach Mike Yeo hasn't exactly enthralled Haula with a ton of responsibility which have negatively affected his numbers but due to the Wild being shockingly quiet in the off-season, Haula may be inserted into more of a scoring role, something where if you watch him skate he very well could have the presence of mind to produce substantially more.  I remember him specifically in that first round series two years ago versus the Colorado Avalanche and he was electric as the Avs D had no match to comprehend his blazing speed.  So let's talk about the lack of activity Fletcher showed when refining the forward group. In my mind, which at times can scatter a million directions the weakness of the Wild is indeed up front. Zach Parise is unquestionably a world class player, but can I say the same about Mikko Koivu, not exactly. He's no Saku to put it mildly. His highlight year came in 2009-2010 when he accumulated seventy one points but the totals have diminished each year since. The first thing that comes to mind when analyzing Mikko's game is laziness. The Wild, at least before Parise and Suter came to St.Paul were very much a grind away, sit on mistakes by the opposition, just quintessential Jacques Lemaire hockey and Koivu ironically enough excelled more in that system then he does in Mike Yeo's system which is more run and gun which would seemingly suit Koivu's game to a T, but as the team captain the lack of heart shown has me wondering how content he really is in Minny. At some point in time, I will enlist my prognosticated top twenty scorers for the 2015-2016 season, and the way I stand right now, on that list is surely to be Jason Zucker. An actually talented J.Z.....apologies go out to R & B fanatics, if Zucker can avoid injury, I forecast a ninety point season may be on the horizon. I could go on all day about Zucker but the greatest compliment I can give him is his play reminds me a lot of New York Rangers Chris Kreider. For some reason, other then the fact that they're A) Both American B) Both amazing skaters C) have deceptive hands D) look the same, I can't seem to pinpoint why I always compare the two.

Somewhere in the NBC studios, Pierre McGuire is hopefully reading this, who I am kidding, he's still critiquing his iconic Jordan Eberle goal call from the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championship, and remembering the  way Marco Scandella beast moded through the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships. This twenty five year old Montreal native was a huge steal for the Wild who selected him with fifty fifth overall pick back in 2008 has slowly transitioned into Minnesota's most reliable defenceman.  The jist on Scandella is that he's a big defenceman standing at 6'1 205,  but what impresses me the most is his penchant for just getting pucks to the net as he put a team leading 112 shots right onto opposing goalies in 2014-2015. Scandella has yet to garner that type of respect when it comes to the offensive side,  but I believe the best comparable of Marco would be a Markov, Andrei to be exact. I think Markov's game is evidently more polished because he's a cagey veteran of the league but the up side Scandella has makes him the most important member of the back-end and the sky is the limit for this Quebecois. If  a professional team ever comes to their senses and employs me in the administration side of things which is only a matter of time as my knowledge is too great to pass up on, they'll be quick to understand when it pertains to asset management, there isn't a more important quality to have then having winning experience. Jared Spurgeon is a winner, albeit on a smaller scale. He was a key cog, the backbone of the 2008 Memorial Cup Champions Spokane Chiefs. The fact that he's went through a gauntlet which is the  Western Hockey League playoffs proves to me that he's adjucitable to becoming a number two defenceman on this club because he's someone who won't panic under high pressure situations, which is imperative at this professional level.

Stability. Stability. Stability. The Edmonton Oilers finally have goaltending stability in Devan Dubnyk. Oh wait....right, the Oilers bailed on Dubnyk the same way Marc Crawford bailed on using Wayne Gretzky in the shoot-out in the Nagano Olympics. I don't know what the Oilers possibly expected from Dubnyk as when the modern day Ken Klee was your number one defenceman at that time, ie Justin Schultz it wouldn't of mattered whether it was Dubnyk, Martin Brodeur or Ken Dryden. Dubnyk after fizzling through the Montreal and Nashville organizations, finally found a permanent home in Minnesota.  The NHL's best goalie in the second half posting an astonishing .936 save percentage, it's quite ascertainable that the expectations held by the fans of Minny may be a tad too high coming into the 2015/2016 campaign and now the ball is Dubnyk's court to prove he's not the next Jim Carey, a one hit wonder if there ever was one. Jim Carey the goalie, not the actor although one could make a reasonable argument that aside from his Ace Ventura hit,  the actor Carrey's been a Hollywood afterthought.

18.Nashville Predators- Been to Nashville recently, gorgeous city, the Bridgestone Arena seems first class, and from the goaltending through the back-end, the Predators have the making of being a first class organization. Journeyman coach Peter Laviolette enters his second year at the helm and he will look to remain consistent, something that has been a benchmark of his coaching resume. "Smashville" is ready for an extended playoff run, I'm just not entirely sure 2015/2016 will be that season.

Factually, the forwards are the sour spot on an otherwise solid hockey club. A quick scan of their expected depth chart and I'm having immense trouble figuring out who will find their offensive niche in this group. The one exception to that rule is the young Swede Filip Forsberg.  No relation to the great Peter but the Predators are reaping the benefits of one of the most lop sided trades in NHL history when they acquired the rights to Forsberg, who by the way was the eleventh overall selection in 2011 for  Martin Erat. Yes, the same Martin Erat who in the Washington Capitals playoff run the same season after acquiring him was a healthy scratch along the way. Wouldn't Forsberg look sensational on the wing with Alexander Ovechkin for the Capitals? Even though there's no relation to Peter Forsberg, when you watch him play it's not hard to notice a lot of tangible similarities. The symmetry in which both control the puck and give off the impression that they have eyes on the back of their head as their vision is world class. I will say howev er, that the one difference that was apparent between Peter and Filip, and keep in mind that Filip just completed his rookie season is when the game got bigger, ie the playoffs, Filip's compete level tailed off. It's hard to argue with his playoff statistics as he was good for six points in six games, but in that first round series against Chicago, he constantly was playing from the perimeter and if he would've been less passive at times, Nashville could've reigned victorious in that series. As is aforementioned earlier, the Predators lack a solid amount of depth up front which makes Forsberg significantly elevating his point total of sixty three points from a year ago. This kind of pressure that will be put on Forsberg is border line unfair, but this comes with the territory of General Manager David Poile not addressing the actual needs properly. The jury is still out on who won the transaction between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Preds involving James Neal and Patric Hornqvist.  Neal is more of a pure sniper where in my opinion Hornqvist is just a better overall hockey player.  Neal lacks top-end speed which hinders his overall productivity which is why I feel the Penguins made out like bandits. James Neal is such an anomaly because when you watch him play, he looks like a top twenty player but solely based on numbers, he tops out as a second liner. As much as Forsberg needs to take on a leadership role, it's equally important that Neal try to replicate his golden 2011-2012 forty goal romp. A player to watch out for a little under the radar is Austin Watson. The former Windsor Spitfire put up average statistics with the Milwaukee Admirals in the  American Hockey League  but it's his Evgeni Malkin type frame that has Predator supporters salivating. I can't imagine a scenario in which Laviolette doesn't provide Watson an opportunity to play every day as the coddling is over and it's time to for Watson to become a consummate professional that we all know he can be.

Shea Weber gets a lot of praise, and deservingly so, but I'm not as high on him as others, including Nick Kypreos who labelled Weber the "best defenceman in the National Hockey League". I believe he fits within the top tier conversation but to me, the cream of the crop revolves around Drew Doughty and P.K Subban. Basically, I don't see the Sicamous, B.C product boasting enough of an all around game like Doughty and Subban possess. He has the hardest shot in the game of hockey a skill he has showcased over the course of several NHL Skill competitions but desperately needs to improve upon his work in his own zone. Aside from my minor concerns involving Shea, the Predators have the defensive depth in the league as arguably one through six they have players that would top two defenders on most teams. The player that I want to focus on is Ryan Ellis, as much as I would like to sing the tune of former Regina Pat Barrett Jackman, Ellis is much more noteworthy concerning the current state of affairs in Predator land.  Ellis was a unprecedented case in a sense that unlike most before him, he was blessed with the fortune of suiting up for Team Canada at the World Juniors three times.  And unlike two particular examples in Jason Spezza and Jay Bouwmeester who also donned the WJHC Canada sweater three times, they weren't used in impact roles like Ellis was.  The obvious offensive gifts stick out like a sore thumb but it's his rigorous work in the d-zone which is often times overlooked but the physicality that  he plays with makes him someone coach Laviolette can start employing on the penalty kill. This "soft" reputation that Ellis has falsely developed is insulting to people like myself who got to see him at a World stage in juniors and soft would be the last descriptor I would use regarding Ryan. The only knock on Ellis, and I can't stress only enough is that he had some lower body injuries that hampered him throughout last season which saw him appear in fifty eight games. A full healthy season on Ellis' behalf will only aid the Predators in accomplishing their team goals.

Pekka Rinne has been the rock that most Tennesseans account as the sole reason why the Predators have turned the corner from their previous obscurity which plagued this franchise from the early to mid two thousands to where they are now. The king from Kempela, Finland is someone that over the course of his career has posted a .919 save percentage and if it wasn't for a blemish on the card from 2013/2014 it would be muuuuccccch higher. As good as this defenceman has the potential to be, this group will only go as far as Pekka takes them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tulowitzki Toronto bound

Mayhem ensued in the Toronto Blue Jays organization last night as General Manager Alex Anthopoulos struck a mammoth, albeit surprising trade with the Colorado Rockies acquiring shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. As FOX sports insider Ken Rosenthal wrote, this trade may go down as one of the most stunning trades in baseball history just in the sense that although Tulowitzki's name was out there in some trade banter, a fit to the Blue Jays seemed unlikely at best.  On a purely personal point of view, I'm not a fan of this transaction from a Toronto Blue Jays point of view, I'm just not seeing it as a necessity for a variety of  reasons. There's the clubhouse dynamic in which is heavily dominated by the Latino community, particularly the majority of it's core players in which Jose Reyes, who was one of the pieces sent to Denver fits into the Latino mold who holds a tight knit friendship with Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Some will point out that "friendships" are the least of the worries a General Manager should be concerning himself with but at the end of the day, you have to ensure that your stronger players support a big move, and it makes you contemplate whether Encarnacion and Bautista fully support the move which sees Jose leave town. Also, and more much aligned to my big gripe with this, is using our best trading chip in pitcher Jeff Hoffman to NOT bring in a starter, in which the Jays so desperately need a sound strategy? Not at all! I couldn't give two cents that Tulowitzki is contracted long term, because Anthopoulos can spew all he wants about this being a move cognizant of the long term, but any deal Anthopoulos makes he's fully aware his job is on the line and although the future is set at SS, the cards aren't aligning for this year as this is a .500 ball club, and the team doesn't have the pitching to compete.  To catch the Yankees and the Twins, the two teams that currently stand in the way of the playoff berth, we can't be throwing out the likes of R.A Dickey and Drew Hutchison out their twice every five days and expect to be competitive. In an ideal world which we do  not live in, a rotation consisting of (insert ace here), Buerhle, Estrada, Dickey and Hutchison is atleast serviceable, but the insert ace here as the juggernaut at the top of the rotation is something we're lacking, and Jeff Hoffman should've been used to acquire it, not to upgrade a position that wasn't a glaring weakness. Yovani Gallardo from the Texas Rangers has been said to be available, although Texas' latest jolt may of changed that philosophy is absolute ace material, and consider me upset if we're a Jeff Hoffman away from missing out on his services. Secondarily, sending Reyes out and bringing Tulowitzki in changes the outlook of the lineup. Twitter's been a buzz on speculated lineup combinations and I certainly have my opinions on what a post-Reyes lineup card should look like. Ryan Goins has been used as a late game defensive replacement for Reyes as he has received one starting assignment since July 9th, but with Tulowitzki not sharing those same defensive deficiencies, where does that leave Goins, drastically underrated by Blue Jays pendants? Well, what I would like to see is Goins be given some serious look out in left field. Between him and Carerra, I would shoulder more of the load toward Ryan as on the surface, because Carrera supplies more power, would make for a better pinch hitting candidate then Goins.  Last night when this trade first broke, my first thought was to have Tulowitzki bat lead-off but after further though I'm inclined to throw Tulowitzki in the five hole creating a potent murderer's row in the middle of the order. What I'd like to see happen is grant the lead-off assignment to Ryan Goins, with as it's been all year going with Donaldson- Bautista-Encarnacion 2-3-4, with the newly acquired TT batting fifth. In the sixth hole, I'd like to see the platoon of Smoak and Colabello, with Canadian Russell Martin batting seventh, with Pillar and Devon Travis rounding out the order.  That's the lineup that if I was John Gibbons I would pencil in. On an additional note, and I only bring this up due to Tulowitzki's inevitable power, does this make Encarnacion expendable to assist them bringing in this coveted starter? If you can flip Encarnacion to say a team like the pitching heavy Washington Nationals for someone like Gio Gonzalez? By trading Encarnacion, this would alleviate full time starts to both Justin Smoak and Chris Colabello whilst bringing in Gonzalez who most definitely has the "stuff" to be that front of the line rotation starter. It's worth pondering.

The Blue Jays haul in the big name, the right big name, that could be debatable to the end of time.


Brett Murray



Monday, July 27, 2015

2015-2016 National Hockey League Preview: Teams 15 and 16

15.Dallas Stars- The brass tacks of the situation are that if any non-veteran coach was running the bench of the Dallas Stars right now, he would've lost his job over last year's 6th place central division atrocity. The fact that Lindy Ruff, who had some admirable years with the Buffalo Sabres is leading the charge provides in my humble opinion unwarranted pull because except for one magical 1999 season in which they came a crease violation over turn from maybe winning the Lord Stanley he's been marred by underachieving playoff teams. An excellent mix between veterans and up and comers forecasts that things could become even bigger in Texas this go around.

The "get" of the off-season revolves around the acquisition from the Chicago Blackhawks landing Patrick Sharp.  Sharp has playoff experience and accolades that only players across the league can dream about however his on ice performance as of late leaves a little extra to be desired. I suppose the reputation that Sharp's career has been plagued with is that he's a one dimensional player with a mammoth shot and not much else. From the hash, their aren't much better then Sharp coming down and releasing the patented wrist shot.  The Dallas Stars parted ways with a pretty darn good player in my opinion in Trevor Daley who filled a top two position on the Dallas Stars defence so by making this trade, General Manager Jim Nill and coach Ruff are anticipating that Sharp can regain the form of 2013-2014 which saw this Thunder Bay Native net thirty four goals.  I'm a little skeptical as I rightfully argue that Sharp's success is largely tied in to the ridiculous depth the Chicago Blackhawks possessed. Supposedly one of the NHL's bad boys, someone who reportedly was a poor locker room presence during his Boston Bruins era in Tyler Seguin on the ice anyway continues to flourish. The whole debate back in 2010, whether it was "Taylor  or Tyler" during the National Hockey League draft has quickly opened the floodgates to two of the league's most polarizing figures. The takeaway from Seguin's game, the former Plymouth Whaler standout is how physical he is complimented by his world class skill. A lot of player that put up similar statistical lines of such as Seguin are perceived as soft  but that description is insulting when profiling the swift #91. In watching a recent interview with Dominic Moore, the brother of Steve who infamously was left with career ending injuries when knocked out by Todd Bertuzzi, stated that Patrick Eaves is one of the best ping pong players in the league. I realize this as useless as a tidbit as any but the implication that it might be time for Eaves to set down the paddle and focus on improving in the game he gets paid for.  Eaves, who was  a World Junior Hockey Championship standout has been anything but at the top-level which I amount some of that of him rotting away in obscurity with Detroit. At this stage of his career, the expectation of Eaves will be for him to be a defensively responsible third/fourth liner but when I watch him play, I'm always left wanting sooooo much more. He carries deceptive speed which has me speculating that if Ruff ever placed Eaves on a line with a player like Seguin, he wouldn't feel out of place.

I think losing Trevor Daley on defence is comparable to when the Toronto FC lost Jermaine Defoe. Irreplaceable.  I feel like I'm beating a dead horse by continuously harping on this particular trade but based off of the Stars strengths and weaknesses, the need for Daley outweighed the need to bring in Sharp. Daley, who if you remember was a victim of racial hazing when he was a member of the Windsor Spitfires was Mr. Everything for the state of Texas as he could be counted upon for point production as well with reliability shutting down the oppositions top forwards.  Gone is Daley, so the question becomes he can fill the shoes and gain first line pairing minutes? A player I'm about to mention isn't someone who'll be ready for such competent playing time just yet but is someone if coach Ruff finally lets out of the dog house and exudes patience with, could translate into a gem and this is none other than Jameson Oleksiak.  I have no idea why, but even though Jameson came into the league amongst loads of fanfare he's NEVER been heralded enough to be trusted in important situations for Dallas. Is he the best skater in the world?  Well no, but with that intimidating size and physicality it's a shame that didn't fall upon a better destination.  Jameson Oleksiak has landed upon the final straw in Dallas due to the pressing matter that he is on a one year contract and if Dallas truly views him as a long term option and not just as a stop-gap, they won't pull the same stunt that the Toronto Maple Leafs are using on Nazem Kadri. The kid needs an opportunity. Perhaps trade bait as a rental? I consider myself a stout hockey observer, but I'll admit when prior to last season,  I had no iota on who John Klingberg is. I may of not had an opinion of Klingberg then,  but I do now! Klingberg will be the recipient of increased responsibility in lieu of the Daley(all ties in) as this twenty two year old is the number one sheriff in town.  To be a plus player, as a rookie, on a  non playoff team to boot is very noteworthy and although I'm of the belief that Dallas has an overall shoddy defence, Klingberg is no joke and although there won't be much competition for this mantra, Klingberg is an absolutely deserving franchise defenceman, and the sky is the ceiling for this young Swede.

Jim Nill learned under the tutelage of one of the all time great General Managers Ken Holland but apparently didn't bring with him the notebook that inside were instructions onto how to properly build a franchise through trade.  The idea that this regime doesn't have complete faith in Kari Lethonen is somewhat understandable as his 2014/2015 numbers including his .903 save percentage are very Patrick Lalime-esque, but under the presumption that they didn't feel that Kari could be the back bone of this team, they bring in Antii Niemi?  After Niemi led, I mean watched the Chicago Blackhawks to a 2010 Stanley Cup, Niemi's stock sky rocketed with the San Jose Sharks learned first hand ruined a era of consistent playoff hockey, has had the penchant of showcasing deteriorating numbers which you wouldn't think would make him a captivating choice in bring in for a team that is close to reaching it's pinnacle as Dallas is. Aside from that, my other issue with the acquisition of Niemi, where does this leave former first round pick Jack Campbell? He's had a less then desirable early beginning to his professional escapades, but at the very least if I'm a Dallas supporter, I'm more comfortable with a Lethonen/Campbell tandem then I am seeing two thirty two years battle for playing time.

16.Winnipeg Jets- Is this the most talent that Head Coach Paul Maurice has had to work with? The 2002 Carolina Hurricanes are about to go bananas with this prognostication, but the 2015-2016 Winnipeg Jets with the influx of young talent ready to take that next leap, are better off then that Hurricanes team, who were celebrating one hit wonders such as recent Amazing Race winner Bates Battaglia who led the Canes to a cinderella run when the talent frankly wasn't there. Apologies to all Sean Hill fans out there, but it was those kind of players that Maurice was forced to ice  that led to a lucky jaunt throughout the playoffs. Back to the Jets, as the rambling will endlessly continue, the Jets team hasn't lost much this off-season aside from Michal Frolik and the goal of this unit will be to position themselves better  for the playoffs so they can avoid a nightmarish first round draw like facing the Anaheim Ducks.

Chelveldayoff, the first General Manager in this reincarnation of the Winnipeg Jets, has a dilemma on his hands, and that involves Nic Petan. Petan has torn apart the Western Hockey League the last two seasons accumulating two hundred and two points while playing for the Portland Winterhawks, and although Cheveldayoff and Maurice don't have a penchant for rushing prospects into the big club unless your name is Mark Scheifele, the fact that Petans skill set is so drastically different than what the Jets currently roster, one would assume he'll get a long, hard look.  The Jets have an abundance of size up front, and with Petan standing at 5'9 is a valued counter measure that will be of useful importance for the J.E.T.S. Mathieu Perreault tallied eighteen goals last year, but it was the nineteenth goal that was not scored that he will look back upon with a great deal of dismay.  The day was January 14,2015 where the Winnipeg Jets were up against the Florida Panthers. The game was telecast on the Jets regional broadcast channel "TSN Jets", in which TSN runs a promotion where if any one from the Jets score five goals in one game, they will give one million dollars to a lucky contestant. That lucky contestant on this night was Brandon, Manitoba principal Gail McDonald, who later claimed in an interview conducted by TSN radio that she had no idea that she was a lucky chosen one that night until a relative informed her later on in the evening. Later in the third period, in which the Jets clobbered the Panthers, Perreault orchestrated a partial breakaway only to get robbed by Al Montoya. As a viewer that night it was heart wrenching to watch, and as is usually the case, I'm sure the good Samaritan Perreault along with the Jet organization did something that would lessen McDonald's devastation, one can hope anyway. One of my favourite players in the league is Bryan Little. The Barrie Colt alum, along with Petan is absolutely against the norm when it comes to size as he also stands at 5'11, but holy smokers can the guy play. For a man of his stature, one would presume that he would have the propensity of getting knocked off the puck easily, but it's his work with the puck on his stick that stands out most prevalent. The last couple seasons he's seemed to have a pass first mentality but if he can regain a slightly more selfish approach, Little may be in for Giant things this year.

I'm from Western Canada, so I may have a bias towards the Western Canadians, sue me. This "bias" takes full effect when profiling Paul Postma. Postma, who worked his junior trade for the Swift Current Broncos is an outstanding defender in large part because the size he is a tremendous skater.  A piece of advice I would give Maurice would be to supply more power play minutes Postma's way. Like the old saying goes, unless you try, you'll never succeed, well this couldn't be more true for the Red Deer native.  His numbers with the Broncos and the Calgary Hitmen speak louder then words ever could. Is he a forward? Is he a defenceman? I firmly believe that Dustin Byfuglien has finally found a secure home on the back-end.  He no question has the skills to line up on the wing as he did during the Chicago Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup run, but it's applying those skills along with the booming shot which make him a feared presence on the back-end. A player of his skill-set, to touch on a critique for a second, his discipline must significantly improve.  He takes about as many penalties as the great Dean Portman did during his iconic run with Gordon Bombay's ducks. Unlike Portman, Byfuglien is needed on the ice because there's no Fulton Reed on defence to aid his mistakes. Tyler Myers is an intriguing commodity, has been for some time now but moving to Winnipeg from the rigors of Buffalo must of been a culture shock, but in his first full year now, much more will be asked from Paul Maurice. Myers is a lanky presence who skates fairly well and comes from a defensive producing machine via the Kelowna Rockets, but one thing that needs major work is his hockey I.Q. Myers has all the tools but not a tool-box that can safely handle what he has. Simplification is the best answer to alleviate the short comings of Myers' game and the simplification will allow Maurice to confidently throw Myers out on the ice in high pressure situations.

It's becoming rarer and rarer for one goaltender to take the complete realm and run with it. The two goaltender system in which the Winnipeg Jets employ Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec fits in with what most organizations run with, unless you're phenoms Carey Price or Tuuka Rask.  Just from a personal perspective, I'd lean towards giving the majority of the starts to Pavelec even though Hutchinson had his coming out party last year, a  party where I think too many individuals may have joined too early.As dominant as Hutchinson was at times, he'd also throw in the occassional game where it was impossible to ascertain whether you were watching a NHL goaltender, or  a goalie getting lit up at your local beer hockey league. Pavelec is on a short leash in the sense that Hutchinson is younger which may have  Maurice and company preaching more patience towards the former.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The validity of a NFL Second Chance

Much has been made about the National Football League's discipline towards criminal and violent acts and how Roger Goodell seems to take a cautious approach but when media and the public opinion comes to the forefront, Goodell seizes to the demand of the public and arguably in certain situations over sanctions an offence, ie the infamous "Deflate-gate".

The incident that I want to discuss pertaining to this players chances for getting a second opportunity based on a heinous act he committed just before the 2014 NFL season consummated, that being Ray Rice. The story begins when on March 27th,2014 Rice was charged with assault against his girlfriend, a charge for which his then girlfriend-now fiancĂ©e???, elected to not pursue the matter any further. Commissioner Roger Goodell then based on the purported evidence he then had, handed down a two game suspension. Before I continue with this Rice saga, it should be noted that for deflating a football, in Goodell's eyes that deems a more stern infraction then a grown adult knocking a woman out in an elevator. Nevertheless, as I don't anticipate over going into detail with my thoughts with the ridiculous deflate-gate over blown non-sense, this essentially goes back to my original hypothesis of the NFL, and I'm totally aware that other professional leagues fall victim to this as well, is the constant headline of  a league only serving out reasonable discipline when the media perception falls negatively on the league. Rice committed an act that would get an average civilian lengthy jail time, but yet because he falls under the celebrity tree, TWO GAMES was the original penalty. It's quite frankly showing a lack of care for society that he(Roger) is unwilling to take a stand based on past legal comparables, and uses the public's general lack of knowledge and details pertaining to these things as a cover-up for saving face. Getting back to Rice, he should be in jail and one of the main reasons he isn't is due to the mishandling of the discipline.  What kind of message does this send to the abuse victims across the world, well I'll tell you exactly what it implies and that is someone that has been blessed with celebrity status is over and above the law. Even though Goodell dropped the proverbial ball, and I totally understand the quasi-dilemma  a lot of NFL owners face with this being a cutthroat business that revolves about winning but to win the respect back from a lot of people who have rightfully turned way, make a conscious effort of keeping the trash about the league and how about as opposed to re-instating Rice, we re-instate the values that football and sport are at it's premise and that is teamwork,RESPECT TOWARDS OTHERS,  and a positive attitude. Fans including myself love to watch competitive events consummate but for myself personally and I'm sure many others share this sentiment, becoming a "fan" entails getting behind an individuals story thus finding a reason to root for that player/team. Plaxico Burress shooting himself was reason for essential banishment from the league, let's right a wrong and rid ourselves from poor role models like Ray Rice.


Brett Murray


Thursday, July 23, 2015

2015-2016 National Hockey League Preview: Teams 13 and 14

13.New York Rangers-Aside from the Chicago Blackhawks, the New York Rangers take the cake for being the league's most consistent team the past two seasons. The most paramount reason for the Rangers successes is how former General Manager Glen Sather who recently passed the torch to Jeff Gorton was able to keep in touch with the modernized game and has followed a regiment put in place by the Los Angeles Kings in that size wins. The  Rangers are big, fast, and just continually come at you as it's becoming the trend that is getting picked up by more organizations, the Rangers were just one of the first to accept the premise of the new National Hockey League.

There's not a lot you can fault the Rangers on as making the Eastern Conference final in back to back years is no small feat but Rick Nash has to start elevating his game when the importance lifts. Nash is widely perceived as a world class player, a classification that I myself am not comfortable agreeing with but what I see in Nash is a player that feasts on inferior opponents but becomes invisible when faced with a  little adversity. He's hockey's version of what Russell Westbrook is to basketball, dynamic in the regular season but heads on vacation a tad prematurely. From a Rangers perspective, Nash is no longer the star on the Big Apple not withstanding his forty two goals in 2014-2015, that designation belongs to Americans Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider. Kreider particularly is a player that I've been a fan of for a long, long time. His speed is game changing and it's combining that foot speed with that fearlessness of crashing the net with has forced the rest of the league to quickly take notice. Sure, you might be reading this and are under the belief that Kreider does not possess high hockey I.Q, but I think it's important that you don't overlook the natural ability he has because natural ability in sports will take you a long way. If Kreider puts the time and effort into the skill department throughout the off-season he's one of those players that by the end of the year might sneak up on you and be the Rangers team leader in scoring. Every now and again, I like to focus on a more unheralded player and I think a profile on Jesper Fast is deserved. An appropriate surname because as with Kreider, Jesper's a burner and is slowly transisting into my favourite athlete named Jesper starting to pass the great nine fingered golfer Jesper Parnevik.  Fast fulfilled a fourth line role during the playoffs and because Fast gained trust with coach Alain Vigneault, he saw spot duty alongside Derek Stepan at times. If the playoffs were indeed a sign to come, expect massive things from Jesper this campaign as if the 180 foot game continues, more playing time will be enlisted for this twenty three year old Swede.

Some, most may consider the defence to be a strength in the big apple, but if this was 2012, then I would concur with that assessment, but in 2015, the core of the defence is aging and were exposed greatly in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs especially against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Keith Yandle came over from the Arizona Coyotes where he was the d-man counted upon in all facets but preceding the move to the Rangers his role diminished and what I saw was a player who struggled to adapt to his surroundings. In some form, the coaching staff will have to work with Keith to re-instill the confidence in his game because that drives his creativity, something that wasn't evident during the final half of the season. Another thing that's bugged with me Yandle to take a less serious note, you play your junior hockey in Moncton but yet when pressed by a Coyotes reporter for a website hit, you claim you have no idea what Lays Ketchup chips taste like....#hardtobelieve. To shift gears, long gone are the painful memories of having to watch Scott Gomez in Red,  White and Blue as thoughts quickly transitioned to now captain, Ryan McDonagh. When I watch McDonagh play, I get Brian Leetch vibes which is extremely high praise in Ranger circles. The way he thinks the game not to mention his shaking is Leetch-esque and aside from Yandle, he's the one defenceman that has any offensive instincts which is the singularly glaring weakness with the Rangers output. It would be advised that newly appointed Gorton address this concern and being how Cody Franson is still currently an unrestricted free agent, that would be a wonderful fit.  One of the more controversial draft selections came in 2010 when with the tenth overall selection the Rangers selected Moose Jaw  Warrior alum Dylan McIlrath. Controversial if for no other reason then by selecting McIlrath they passed on Cam Fowler, and if you're buying what I'm selling then you'll understand that Fowler would've of addressed an offensive team need. McIlrath has had a lot of doubters and it started from a young age, as a buddy of mine delivered one of the more memorable sound bites I have heard at a hockey game when the Warriors were facing off against the visiting Regina Pats shortly before Hockey Canada were to announce their World Junior Selection camp invites, he shouted out" Hey Dylan.....have fun watching the World Juniors.......on T.V".

Goaltending is a security blanket for New York as Henrik Lundqvist has now been a staple in the net for many years. Henrik provides a sense of relief and stability for the Ranger defenders as unlike Rick Nash, when the games get bigger, he becomes that more clutch between the pipes. The fact that Lundqvist continually posts numbers such as last year's .922 save percentage, one has to wonder what it'll take for Henrik to push the Rangers over the top.

14.Edmonton Oilers-To say the Edmonton Oilers have divulged themselves in years of futility would be a gargantuan understatement. Due to unprecedented  draft lottery luck, the fortunes may be starting to turn in a positive direction. A management team has come into the fold with former Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli now in charge with former San Jose Sharks bench boss Todd McLellan the new coach. Anytime you can replace the incompetent Craig McTavish with someone who has a Stanley Cup ring as a manager in Chiarelli, it's an certifiable upgrade. Can this uber young nucleus finally break through and start to show the promise and potential that according to the Oiler faithful, should've happened years ago?

Up front, all eyes will be on the rookie that has received as much if not more hype then Sidney Crosby did back in 2005, that being Connor McDavid. McDavid will be viewed as the savior for Oiler nation, and if I was a conservative prognosticator, I would say that it's probably wise to temper expectations but considering there is nothing conservative about my blog, I'll stipulate that it's very plausible that he's   a candidate for finishing top ten in scoring. Connor annihilated the Ontario Hockey League ranks playing for the Erie Otters and I'm excited to see the progression he'll have worked on this summer to prepare him for the National Hockey League. The truth is, as much as I admire the work of McDavid, he'll need a capable supporting cast to flourish and this ties into my opening paragraph when I say the time is now that these other young stars finally live up to the phenomenal potential that they all have. We'll begin with the former Windsor Spitfire Memorial Cup Champion Taylor Hall.  On the surface, Hall is the terrific compliment to McDavid because he'll be able to keep up stride for stride with the player they affectionately call "McJesus", and has a finishing touch to counter Connor's pass first mentality. Numerous minor injuries, including a nagging shoulder issue has hampered Taylor's productivity over the last few years but when healthy he's as good as anyone in the NHL. Only tallying thirty-eight points, albeit only playing fifty three games was a disappointing and frustrating season but as is always the case, a new season breeds profound optimism. When I say the Oilers laurels rest heavily on Taylor Hall, this surely could be reciprocated by the media who covers the Oil on a daily basis because as Hall goes, the rest of the team will follow. McDavid may be the future leader, but Hall is the present. I hate ragging on players, actually I really don't mind it, but when comes to the category of the league's most overrated players, the name Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stands out. Although not shown with my criticism of RNH, I'm actually an Oilers fan but I was pulling hard that during Ryan's draft that the Oilers would've instead targeted Jonathan Huberdeau. His physical build does not mesh with the way the game is now played, and watching him get constantly pushed around is cringe worthy.

This defence needed a rebuild, not going out on a limb by proclaiming that. However, I'm concerned that the defensive rebuild overseen by Chiarelli may be met with flaws.  The defence in 2014-2015 drew comparisons to that of an ECHL squad did a lot of  re-tooling but unforgivably acquired two defenceman who can't skate, which I'm no star player but I'm pretty sure is a pre-requisite of making your way to the National Hockey League. Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba are lumped in the same category. I grant you by bringing these two players in, the physicality and toughness on defence which was lacking last year has been fixed, but the physicality is only one facet which makes a defenceman in this league tick. After further consideration, I see a little more potential with Gryba then I do Reinhart.     The Saskatchewanian Gryba has a booming shot which makes up for his awkward skating style. The huge coup in the off-season was Andrej Sekera. I didn't think a player like Sekera would choose to spend his prime years with a re-tooling team but Sekera's surprise decision is the Oilers gain. The best descriptor for Sekera is that's he a complete player and can play in all situations.

Cam Talbot is the new Jussi Maarkanen in town and the Oilers feel like they've finally found the goalie of the future, but the question I have to Peter Chiarelli who signed off on this acquisition with the New York Rangers is if throwing all of their eggs in one basket with a goaltender who's been a career back-up was a wise strategical endeavor.  Talbot will certainly be under a great deal of scrutiny as the tandem of Ben Scrivens and Victor  Fasth piled on tons of anxiety to previous two coaches    Dallas Eakins and Todd Nelson but the hope is that Talbot will at least bring partial stability.                                                                                                         

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Kelowna's "Rocket Man"

The search for the next head coach of the prestigious Kelowna Rockets has been underway for a few weeks now, and there has been some speculation on who the target for General Manager Bruce Hamilton is as he was quoted in an article saying that their's a "guy" out there that he's waiting to speak to. One would take from that this unknown covet is the leading candidate for the job, but what I'm going to do is list five names who I have an inkling about and would be reasonable fits for an organization that again is on the precipice of fielding a Western Hockey League contender. As a pre-cursor, I'm listing the candidates alphabetically by last name.

Marc Crawford- With the following scenario, I foresee Crawford being the man for this position. Crawford currently hoists the head coaching position of the ZSC Lions in Switzerland. He's made no secret that he strives to be given another look in the National Hockey League and I think he's becoming quite angst with the fact that a direct flight from Switzerland may not land him back in the big show. What I believe could happen is Crawford will tender his resignation in Europe under the principle that Kelowna negotiates with the player who was set to play for him in the Swiss league, that being Auston Matthews. Negotiations will have to be held with his Western Hockey League rights holder the Everett Silvertips, but both player and coach may view this as an one and done scenario with using the inevitable success that would take place as a tactic to the National Hockey League:
                      Likelihood of coming percentage: 80%

Danny Flynn- The longtime coach of the Moncton Wildcats I'm told is the front runner, or was the front runner based off of my baseless speculation of Marc Crawford coming to town. Flynn and Hamilton have been in contact for the position, and Flynn's success in the QMJHL coupled by the fact that he's had a penchant for developing future NHL stars including David Savard and Brandon Gormley which will enlighten confidence in Hamilton because one of the primary responsibilities for the hired head coach will be to oversee the continued development of budding superstars Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley. Flynn has garnered the reputation of a disciplinarian but because Kelowna will have savvy junior veterans in the locker room, enforcing discipline will be a non-entity in that locker room.

                      Likelihood of coming percentage:60%

Ryan McGill- Due to a plethora of Western Hockey League experience, I'll label McGill as the safe choice for the head coaching duties in Kelowna. During his most recent Kootenay Ice tenure, McGill simply didn't  get enough out of the veteran group which included Sam Reinhart but had a tangible amount of more success in his first stop to Cranbrook back in the late nineties/early two thousands which consummated in a Western Hockey League Championship. The advantage with choosing McGill among other reasons is his extreme familiarity with the players, including the Rockets because he was involved with the league last season.  A statistic working in his favour is that other than his first season employed by the then Edmonton Ice, every other season he's coached he's finished with a record above .500 which bodes well for a Kelowna organization that will have championship aspirations once

                    Likelihood of coming percentage:80%

Jason Smith- The current assistant coach of the Ottawa Senators would certainly be an innovative choice for Hamilton as this rugged former blue liner may lack a true Head coaching repertoire but has accumulated the reputation of being a tremendous leader which  was harpened under the tutelage of Ottawa Senators bench boss Dave Cameron. With the aforementioned Chartier and Merkley leading the way offensively it may fancy Hamilton to go in a more defensive direction. Devante Stephens, as clearly laid out when I published my WHL team previews has the making of being a legitimate star in this league, and quite frankly the National Hockey League as well. What better way to acclimatize Stephens to the professional jaunt then having Smith overlook his development.

                    Likelihood of coming percentage: 40%

Trent Yawney- An accomplished player in his own right now boasts quite the colorful coaching resume. During his Chicago Blackhawk playing days, he had the privilege playing under Iron Mike Keenan which would've taught him the importance of accountability, a trait that he can use in a game of junior hockey that he has yet to dip into.  Being a Western Canadian haling from Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan  and a Saskatoon Blade alumni he's fully aware of the rigors a young lad fights through during long bus rides and I firmly believe when you combine his National Hockey League playing and coaching experience, he'll be able to understand the issues of today's game and be an accommodating coach, someone these Kelowna Rockets will thoroughly enjoy playing for.

                     Likelihood of coming percentage: 65%

In summary, based off of what I know and what I anticipate as being the best organizational line of thinking, when it's all said and done expect Marc Crawford to be named head coach with Danny Flynn being a satisfiable back-up on the presumption that the two sides can agree on a contract. If these two avenues come to dead ends, expect Hamilton to resort to a WHL mastermind in Ryan McGill.


Brett Murray



2015-2016 National Hockey League Preview: Teams 11 and 12

11.Columbus Blue Jackets- The Columbus Blue Jackets have arguably had their most productive summer since their inception in the year 2000. For the first time, John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen have instilled a belief amongst an already rich Ohio sporting scene that this team has the make-up to contend for a Stanley Cup. Finally long gone are the days of the solo act which was Rick Nash and arrived is a core that will succeed by committee and will  beat you using it's unprecedented depth in both the forward and defence facets. The eastern conference is in my opinion substantially stronger then the West this year which will create some difficulties for the Jackets but playoffs are an absolute must for a franchise that took a step back from 2013-2014, with reaching the second round of the playoffs as an achievable goal.

It's only appropriate that after touching on the fact that the  Blue Jackets immersed themselves in their most productive off-season that we look at some new residents of Ohio. The son of former disciplinarian Colin Campbell, Greg is a great way to start. In his previous two stops with the Florida Panthers and the Boston Bruins the now veteran thirty one year old Gregory was a leader both on and off the ice. His attention to detail and reliability in the defensive zone rubbed off positively through to his teammates with the fourth line in Boston in which he anchored alongside Shawn Thornton and Chris Kelly extremely effective in the magical 2011 campaign. Campbell has limitations, as do most defensive specialists but it's his legendary compete level as in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, Campbell broke his leg during game action but showed a resilience that not many before him have shown and stayed in the game. These kind of sacrifices are what model franchises need and the addition of Campbell will go unnoticed on the score sheet but to Coach Todd Richards, it's near impossible to appropriately adulate his value. Now, we'll move on to what I perceive as the biggest move in franchise history with a hearty apology to Adam Foote, snagging the man child Brandon Saad. It's fitting that he's born and raised in Pittsburgh because from all accounts he's been blessed with the physical specimen comparable to mean Joe Greene and Jerome" The Bus" Bettis. Coming over from the defending champions Chicago Blackhawks, it's no secret that Stan Bowman and company didn't want to lose him but ultimately was made expendable due to a salary cap crunch. In Chicago, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane get most of the accolades and deservingly so but Saad is a player who at times surpassed the dynamic duo's importance because with his speed and size he created sooooo much open space for his linemates. The criticism with Brandon is his shot which is a scary proposition because he netted twenty three last year and will only improve. The Blue Jackets prior to the trade didn't possess that prototypical power forward who can score at will(please don't reference David Clarkson), now they have one. One last player worth profiling before we move over to the defence is Boone Jenner. I haven't seen Jenner in action a lot, but I can't help but recollect the player he was representing Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship. The determination to battle for pucks was second to none and essentially he's Brandon Saad without hands.

When it was first reported that the Blue Jackets acquired Saad without knowing the return, my first thought was "surely,David Savard has to be going the other way". The St.Hyacinthe, Quebec native is an absolute wonderful skater for his 6'2" frame and it's along with that size his shot is Al-MacInnis-esque. Over the course last year, due to his strong play he overtook Jack Johnson as the power-play specialist and expect more of the same in the 2015-2016 season. Full marks to the previous regime with Scott Howson finding this player with the 94th overall selection in 2009 aswell as giving credit to his junior coach from the Moncton Wildcats Danny Flynn. It's evident he was a late bloomer but Columbus is surely reaping the rewards now. Some fans associated with the Blue Jackets will say last year's disappointing campaign was largely due in part to the contract hold-out of Ryan Johansen to begin the year but a bigger reason for the free-fall as Jack Johnson. I don't know which Johnson had it worse, Jack Johnson channeling his inner Sean Hill during last years miserable year or Dustin Johnson going from someone who was in line to dominate the British Open to all of a sudden becoming a golfer who would probably struggle with his local chip and putt. Johnson has to step up this year or else Kekalainen will be frantically shopping his services to an insane bidder.  The question that will need to be analyzed throughout the course is if Johnson is truly a number one stalwart because as much as I respect the game of David Savard, a number two defenceman is his natural comfort at this stage. For a team that needs to be around come the second round, sorting to find a number one defenceman is priority uno.

Jay Onrait's favourite goalie to pronounce" Get with the force Booooooobrrrrrrrrooooooovsssssssssssskkkkkkky" is back for another kick at the can.Like Onrait, who has continued to sky rocket up the global media food chain, it will be equally important for Bobrovsky to continue to sky-rocket and attempt to find the form that made him such a formidable commodity through the 2013-2014 season. Goals against and save percentage went up last year, and those are two statistics that you don't want to see increase so we'll receive a decent benchmark on his motivation  level to see whether he can catapult himself back into the Vezina conversation.

12.New York Islanders- It's re-assuring to see that General Manager Garth Snow came to his senses when deciding not to move Kyle Okposo. Moving Okposo would be like DeAndre Jordan agreeing to goto to the lesser Dallas Mavericks(O wait....that didn't happen). Jordan came to his senses inevitably and it's nice to see the Islanders have removed themselves from the Mike Milbury circus to respectability and are starting to make structured hockey decisions. I'll be the first to admit that I had pegged the Islanders as Stanley Cup finalists  a year ago and I was loving the prediction until they ran into a hotter than hot Brayden Holtby of Washington. I won't go so far predicting them to become finalists again, but any time you control the services of John Tavares, you're an instantaneous contender. Tavares had a break through campaign individually, can Tavares parlay that into the ultimate prize, Lord's Stanley?

I'd be remiss if I didn't congratulate the Islanders on completing a fantastic draft which saw them steal Matt Barzal from the Seattle Thunderbirds with the sixteenth overall pick in exchange for a pylon(Griffin Reinhart). Barzal was injury plagued throughout last year which diminished his draft stock and leave it to the Edmonton Oilers to make such an incompetent transaction. The forwards clearly revolve around Johnny T with him reaching a point of always being in the M.V.P discussion. Coming out of junior, Tavares had noticeable skating issues which have since been corrected and actually could be considered an upper-echelon skater at this point in time. The vision that he was born with was the very reason he's been considered a prodigy at a young age and is starting to live up to that potential. Securing eighty six points a year ago you have to wonder whether he's ready to join the one hundred point club, and with it a Hart to follow?  Brock Nelson came out like a house on fire to begin last season but by the end appeared he belonged in the American Hockey League. A battery mate for Tavares if he gets his act together, but quite honestly, particularly during their first round loss to Washington he was playing like a chicken with it's head cut off and will NEED to improve and become a more consistent professional. I think Nelson has immense talent and the early season splits show that but what Brock Nelson will we get in 2015-2016?  The Toronto Maple Leafs can't take credit for much lately, but the player that Nikolai Kulemin has become falls right on their lap. The unfair reputation when it comes to Russian forwards is that their lazy defensively, and primarily that is untrue unless your name is Alexander Semin, but in Kulemin's case he actually excels defensively.  Three short handed goals last year was outstanding and I think Kulemin is one of those rearguards that doesn't require a lot of attention, but to use a 1999 Dallas Stars reference, he may just be the Jere Lethinen to this Islanders squad.

Getting rid of Griffin Reinhart was a blessing in disguise as unless you're Dylan Strome(see draft observations post), their aren't many players I'm harder on, but for good reason. Reinhart was a typical case of a player who could physically dominate the junior ranks but can't skate and has no sustainable offensive skills. Losing Travis Hamonic to a torn ligament throughout their brief playoff run was  a major detriment to their chances, but it's expected he'll be 100% come training camp and that is welcome news to the Islanders. Hamonic has an understated passing ability from the back end and when you have the likes of Tavares and Okposo upfront, that's an important asset to feed upon. Included in that understated offensive attack is loads of tenacity and physical play. Remember when Hamonic while playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the 2010 Memorial Cup, completely laid out Taylor Hall? This was a sign for things to come at the next level as it showed the Islanders regime that he possesses the toughness and fearlessness to succeed when it counts. For most players, keeping up to Hall is a chore but for Hamonic not only did he keep up, he man handled the speedster. Hamonic is number one defenceman quality but when you bring in Johnny Boychuk like they did last off-season, it makes for a gruesome one-two punch. Boychuk and Hamonic I feel play similar styles in the respect that they are both uber reliable in the back-end and play big, but also have tremendous shots, Boychuk wins that race in a milo-second but Hamonic's slapper is no cake walk. Continuing on former Brandon Wheat King defenceman, Boychuk was  a Moose Jaw Warrior and Calgary Hitmen btw, is Ryan Pulock. Pulock is someone that you want to root for based on the tribulations he has been through losing a brother at a young age. Pulock's emergence may spell trouble for Calvin De Haan as Pulock is NHL ready now and with Leddy and Matt Donovan having spots locked up, I have trouble seeing where Calvin fits on D. Ryan Pulock's on ice claim to fame is his electrifying shot and I'm dead serious that it very well  may rival that of Shea Weber.

Jaroslav Halak will be counted upon to be the calm at the end of the storm. Every location he's been to, and he's starting to gain the notorious reputation of being a  journey-man(MTL,STL,WASH,NYI) he's been successful which makes you wonder why he's moved around so often. Exceptional in the Montreal Canadiens 2010 playoff exploits which believe it or not had some in Montreal contemplating who the goalie of the future should've been. Safe to say they made the sound choice. Halak is a goaltender who posted a .914 save percentage doesn't have a glaring weakness that stands out although I do recall watching a regional broadcast  a couple of years ago when the Capitals were playing the Oilers and Louie DeBrusk kept harping at the fact that he has deficiencies with the blocker side, and if he does I've seemingly turned the blind eye.

Monday, July 20, 2015

2015-2016 National Hockey League Preview: Teams 9 and 10

9.Tampa Bay Lightning-The Tampa Bay Lightning came oh so close to winning it's franchise's second Stanley Cup this past season losing out to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals. On the premise, the Lightning have enough to again be a major force in the Eastern Conference but that will be largely dependent on whether the likes of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat can repeat their utter domination that they displayed, particularly throughout the playoffs. Natural progression based off of Johnson's, and Palat's statistics would illustrate that they are ready to take the next step, and when you compound the services of captain Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, the expectation in Tampa will be no worse then another Eastern Conference final appearance.

Last year's playoff run is where coach Jon Cooper and the Lightning get all the accolades and deservingly so as although they were hand picked my a number of the esteemed hockey media to contend, not many slated the Lightning to be finalists. General Manager Steve Yzerman and Cooper deserve immense credit for the culture change in a market that in between this past year and their heroic feat of 2004, have notoriously under achieved. So what can the Lightning fans expect? Well, if it's alright with you even though the question is rendered moot because I am the sole controller of this enterprise, I'm going to voice some concerns with one of last year's break-out stars, Nikita Kucherov. The Moscow, Russia product had an enormous leap from the 2013-2014 campaign in which we witnessed a forty eight  point increase. The implication for being concerned doesn't have to do anything with his point totals but has everything to do with the fact that he rode the coat tails of Palat and Johnson and when I see something like this take place, my first inkling is to imply that a drastic decrease in productivity may be in order. When I view Kucherov, I noticeably see a lack of aggression and he's always content with the play coming to him, with Nikita never pressing the issue. Opposing teams will have gotten a heavy dose of tape to scout the tendencies of him and  the game plan will be to, to steal a line from the fantastic Mighty Ducks Trilogy in which we can substitute Kucherov for Conway's name and that is,"Make him make the first move Kucherov". Making him beat you as opposed to the defenceman beating himself will be paramount when shutting down the swift #86.  Saying that Steve Stamkos had a "slow" season netting fourty three goals just shows what kind of talent this kid has. Make a case for Ovechkin, go ahead, but at the end of the day unquestionably Stamkos is this game's best sniper and will continue to petrify goaltenders unless your name is Corey Crawford. The Sarnia Sting alum I predict could be on the precipus of another sixty goal trot fully taking into account the struggles he faced in the playoffs. "Stammer" is such an underappreciated skater and as a defenceman, you can't begin to slow down  because any pending stall and he's gone to the races and going top cheddar. I could laud the efforts of practically every Lightning forward in lieu of their playoff success but one player that needs to be earn his coin is Ryan Callahan.  I understand the reasoning of the trade when they shipped Martin St.Louis to the New York Rangers for Callahan as a rift was apparent between Yzerman and St.Louis due to an initial 2014 Sochi Olympic snub but Callahan has been awful for a year and a half and needs to be triple time better then he has been. Callahan brings leadership intangibles which I've  stated countless times on this blog are an overrated valuator but on ice is where Callahan has to become the player Yzerman envisioned he was pre-trade.

I have no idea whether Jon Cooper is a sound sleeper but I can make an educated hypothesis that the play of Nikita Nesterov causes daily nightmares in season. His style of play on the surface would make you believe that his statistics should be comparable to someone like Duncan Keith but unfortunately it's nowhere close and his fearless attitude on the ice creates as many odd man rushes one way as it does the other. By saying all of that, I'm very optimistic with the ceiling of Nesterov as in his arsenal he has an under used shot and with this 6'0 200 pound frame, perhaps reaching the forty point plateau shouldn't be out of reach. Some would disagree so I'll preface this by saying facts will be facts that Brayden Coburn and Andrej Shustr are getting long in the tooth and their skating technique will slowly weed themselves out of the league. I respect the fact that they both were reliable in the playoffs but over the course of an eighty two game schedule they will be eaten alive just like Brayden was in Philadelphia. I hate to rag on a good ol' Saskatchewan boy like Coburn but his played has diminished significantly over the last two years and should make for an interesting training camp battle especially considering Anthony DeAngelo will be looking to snap up a spot. DeAngelo, a reported hot head who surprise, surprise has  Sarnia Sting connections, seems like a common theme when doing these previews has skating skills that would leave anybody emphatic with his redemption story which includes publically echoing a racially sensitive comment to a junior teammate to a year or so later becoming one of the more respected players in the Ontario Hockey League. It's a story you can root for, and you know DeAngelo will be fighting tooth and nails to start the year in Tampa Bay.

Ben Bishop had a stellar performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs despite grinding through a groin tear but never altered his demeanor which is the classic sign of a player that will do anything to assist his team in victory. Not necessarily tested in the first two rounds, although the Detroit Red Wings have them a scare in the seven game series but the impression wasn't given off that Bishop was ever being peppered, he got stronger as the playoff led on. With a career best GAA of 2.18 a year ago, he'll need to be as good to further Tampa's chances as Andrei Vasilevsky is patiently waiting in the wings.

10.Anaheim Ducks- Bruce Boudreau and another close call in the National Hockey League. Seems like the yearly script for Boudreau and is becoming a broken record. Arguably home to the league's worst uniform(bring back the Mighty Ducks already), they certainly are far from the worst pertaining to the roster. General Manager Bob Murray conducted some savvy off-season moves and the Ducks are preparing themselves to be, to again aptly construe a Mighty Ducks sound bite, the "California Miracle Men".

Pertaining to the projected thirteen forwards on the roster, only two are listed under six feet which is no surprise as size has become a customary modern day Duck template as size has been a staple in the Ducks repertoire ever since Brian Burke laid his hand prints on this team. When analyzing how the size of the Ducks works to their advantage, look no further then the former Calgary Hitmen Ryan Getzlaf.  At first glance, the size stands out but his creativity with the puck deserves a lot more of the credit. The only player in the league that comes to mind that utilizes size and hands better then Getzlaf is maybe Evgeni Malkin, but I'd be open to being convinced that Getzlaf is ahead of Malkin on the food chain. One could suffice labelling him as the modern day Joe Thornton with speed.  Just another run of the mill type season for Ryan as he accumulated seventy points and I know full well that if linemate Corey Perry smartens up and re-discovers his 2013-2014 self, reaching one hundred points should be a reachable goal.  Understandably, their was some outrage amongst Ducks fans when they moved Bobby Ryan to the Ottawa Senators but that disappointment quickly changed to exuberance after Southern California hockey fans got a taste on how good Jakob Silfverberg is. The oddity on the roster as other then him, the Ducks have a very veteran group up front, Silfverberg is ready to explode onto the scene.  Thirty nine points in the regular season is a little less then commendable but it was his playoffs that was the real show stopper. Jakob was someone who became the Ducks go-to and someone that the Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had to spend late hours game planning for.   Eighteen playoff points in sixteen games was tremendous and with that I'm curious to whether Boudreau will consider stacking the first line and throwing him out there with Perry and Getzlaf. In the trade of the summer, the Ducks acquired Carl Hagelin, a player who makes Luis Mendoza look like Luke Schenn, I apologize in advance for anymore Mighty Duck references, it's getting out of hand..I know, but getting back to Hagelin, people should start looking past his skating because he really is a complete player. One of the league's elite penalty killers will be a valued asset the expense of who?....O, that's right underachiever Emerson Etem.

I could've gone on and on praising the Hagelin acquisition but there comes a point where you must move on. As much as I was pro-Hagelin, I'm almost as much Anti-Bieksa which could off-set the brilliant piece of work Bob Murray constructed. Kevin Bieksa admittedly asked for a trade from the Vancouver Canucks, and my issue with the trade isn't all on the player because at it's core, Bieksa can be a third pairing defenceman but I take offence with it in the sense of acquiring Bieksa, it'll take away  a spot from Shea Theodore who I firmly believe in my heart of hearts is NHL ready. We must raise the question, is a team better served exuding  a  veteran who has clear limitations(Bieksa) in the third pairing or are they better of using that position on developing a future top four chip(Theodore). This move signals 100% that Theodore will be spending the year in the American Hockey League which frankly, for a team who everybody, including myself thinks they can contend are rostering players based off of the name, not based off of what a player will contribute. Sadly, to stay within Ducks lore, this is Rob Niedermayer all over again. I'll never forget when watching the NHL draft on TSN,  when the New York Rangers got to the podium and selected Dylan McIlrath with Cam Fowler readily available, Pierre McGuire acted like the apocalypse was before us and  the world was ending.  Five years later, the New York Rangers are now sharing Pierre's sentiments as McIlrath is on the verge of busting and Fowler who for a long time now has been a steady NHL defenceman.  As much as the Ducks got a steal, I need to see a little more from Cam as I KNOW he' has untapped potential still left and hasn't displayed his entire arsenal. Bruce Boudreau would agree in my critique when I say Fowler was  not very good in the playoffs, and just Okay this past regular season. I'm sure in post-season meeting the mandate between the organization and Fowler was to spend the summer beefing up so he can assist super stud Hampus Lindholm in forming one of the league's best pairings.

I'm torn determining which direction I feel the Ducks are best suited for heading into this 2015-2016 season. Frederik Andersen did nothing evidenced by his 35-12 record last season to feel danger of losing his starting job. The merits are laid out flat and clear as not only was his regular season incredulous, but his playoffs exceeded expectations as well. When analyzing between the pipes, I'm tirelessly going back and forth to whether Andersen is a premier goalie or whether he has Antii Niemin syndrome, just playing safe guard for an already elite team. Compounding the goaltending dilemma is the readiness of a goalie who I feel some day soon can be the leagues best, John Gibson. He was GREAT in the 2014 edition of the playoffs and lost his job to an early injury. I don't envy Boudreau's decision when it comes to managing playing time but if I was at the helm, I would've strongly considered using Gibson as a very valuable trading commodity and trying to bring in another top four defenceman, not the pylon in Bieksa who they foolishly think still has top four tendencies.

Breaking down the Blue Jays barricade

*Before  I get started, the NHL previews will certainly continue although the timeline may not be as prompt as it was during my Western Hockey League team previews.*

The trade deadline is fastly approaching, July 31st to be exact, and a team that is in a very precarious position is none other then a team trying to snap a twenty two year playoff drought, the Toronto Blue Jays.  As of this writing, the Jays sit at 47-47, good enough, or poor enough for a T-3rd showing in the American League East. The question, theorized by so many media pundants, is what can the Blue Jays possibly do to narrow the gap the lies between them and the Yankees and the Twins, two teams that are currently standing in their way of a playoff appearance.

The Blue Jays biggest need(s) consist of starting pitching, relief pitching, and perhaps a contributable outfielder. Some, who are far more pessimistic with this team then even I am may argue that other team needs are infield depth, managerial competence, and some outlandish anti Jay fans may even bring up a beef with the broadcasting, but if you're against Sportsnet Buck Martinez you best stop reading this blog. Back to reality, something that a lot of "fans" struggle with when analyzing the Jays, is the reality that certain moves/players aren't attainable and we have to set our sights on pieces that can not only help the Blue Jays in their 2015 push, but well beyond. This whole talk and fascination about potentially Cincinatti Red and fantasy baseball standout Johnny Cueto coming to the Blue Jays is a pipe dream as a team that is a .500 ball club acquiring a rental would be more foolish then experts that actually thought  Dustin Johnson had a chance of holding on at this past British Open. Cueto is not coming to the Blue Jays, and by some oft chance he does this should be cause for instant termination on Alex Anthopoulos'. Let's begin to ascertain which players are coming north of the border.

We'll first delve into the starting pitching conundrum. News broke yesterday that after the emergence of Aaron Sanchez which has been decided that he will spend the second half in the bull-pen, the consensus is that by sacrificing Sanchez's starting rotation spot they will be bringing in a starter.An interesting name popped out today, although it was later revealed the said team isn't crazy about dealing him away is Mike Fiers from the Milwaukee Brewers. The initial tweet was sent out by FOX Sports Ken Rosenthal which essentially says that the Blue Jays are pushing hard but as it always goes, it takes two to tango.  From my viewings of Fiers, I've been impressed as on more than one occasion he's snapped my streak on "Beat the Streak", but what actually gets me jiggy with the imagination of Fiers landing in Toronto is that Mike possesses a lot of qualities similar to those of Mark Buerhle. He's not a fireballer by any means, as his fast ball tops out at ninety MPH, but his ability to just constantly throw strikes is reminiscent of what Buerhle provides and more importantly he's an innings cruncher something that this organization has lacked especially when staring at Oakland Athletics south paw Scott Kazmir. All of this banter about Cueto, Hamels, Ian Kennedy etc etc has led to Kazmir being the forgotten man in the trade pool and as a lefty, would balance out the righty-lefty imbalance in the rotation.  Kazmir has had an interesting story to tell in Major League Baseball as when he jolted in the league with the Tampa Bay Rays at the tender age of twenty-two, he was virtually unhittable at times and during that time frame was drawing comparisons to another lefty, Cliff Lee. Early in his Tampa Bay tenure, he was a strike out machine accumulating two hundred and thirty nine strikeouts which led the league in 2007.  He was on the verge of greatness, but then as it so often does he got a case of Dontrelle Willisitis which mainly stemmed from unfortunate injuries and over work. With his current ball club, the Oakland Athletics he's starting to refill the cupboard with that promise that was so prevalent during his TB stay. What would Toronto give it up for him, and perhaps tied in to the same logic, what SHOULD the Jays give up for him. To me, if I'm being offered the services of Daniel Norris for Scott Kazmir, I think you have to consider taking the offer if you're Anthopoulos because you're full well knowing going into next year you'll retain the services of Marcus Stromas who has been sorely missed this year so in my eyes Norris becomes an expendable commodity. A rotation with Kazmir, Buerhle, Estrada, Dickey, and Hutchinson is at the very worst serviceable for the remainder of the year.

The bullpen is in a state of flux, or maybe was before we heard the aforementioned news about moving Aaron Sanchez moving down to the bullpen. Sanchez providing relief soothes the cut that has continued to bleed throughout the regular season. To be frank, and sometimes I throw comparisons in my pieces to get a cordial laugh but I'm completely serious when I stipulate that I'd have more confidence seeing former Arizona Diamondback closer back in 2001 Byung-hyun Kim come in relief then I do with Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar who unbelievably were former all-stars back in 2013. Unless the Blue Jays hold a four run or more lead heading into the eight inning, the general fans begins to cringe because no lead has proven to be safe. Assuming Sanchez becomes you're eighth inning guy over time with Osuna still holding the closing realms, John Gibbons can comfortably move Bo Schultz back to a middle of relief role, something that in this stage of career he is better suited for. During writing this, I was watching Bob McCown of Sportsnet's Prime Time Sports, a show that I find very informative, and Bob was taking calls in the first hour as he always does, and primarily every other call that wasn't spent focusing on the Pan Am games was spent from a Blue Jays supporter getting in their two cents on how they felt the team could be improved and the majority were harping on the bullpen being upgraded but the hard truth is the priority is a starter with the slight possibility of a middle of the pack reliever being included in such a deal. Sanchez  being a member of the Bullpen's society has prudently ruled out any trade focusing on relief help.

The acquisition of an outfielder for the Blue Jays doesn't get a lot of buzz with the media, but quite honestly I view this as a bigger priority than the pen. Right now, our outfield consists on a nightly basis of Kevin Pillar-Jose Bautista and a combination of Danny Valencia/Ezequil Carrera/Chris Colabello. Pillar and Bautista, Pillar for his speed and defence, and Bautista for reasons that don't need stating are locks and their spot is uncontested. The battery of three mentioned in Left Field all of have more cons then pros which makes it imperative that we bring in another body. Colabello, fine hitter who is cooling off has the tendencies of Manny Ramirez playing defence. Valencia, a very bland player if there ever was one, doesn't do one thing fantastically, although he brings some pop to the lineup. Carrera, I'm not sure who I'd rather have throwing the baseball, him or Moises Alou, but in all respect to Carrera with his speed I view him as a better candidate to be a pinch runner late in the game. Is there a player out there that they can bring in to be that third every day outfielder whilst platooning Justin Smoak and Colabello as the designated hitter? There always in, and I'll throw out a realistic fit in Ben Revere of the Phillies. Word out there is that the Phils are shopping this speedster. Doesn't have a lot of power but the Jays could more than afford that with Bautista/Encarnacion and Donaldson being able to hit the homer at will but what Revere would improve the fortunes with is his defence. A career .293 hitter who I could foresee being inserted to back second, with Reyes, Revere, Bautista, Encarnacion, and Donaldson as your top five.  The common thought I'm sure you readers will have is why the hell would you want to move Donaldson out of the two hole.  Understandable inquiry, with the answer being increased R.B.I opportunities. Get Reyes and Revere get on base and let the big guns get to work.

So to summarize, my ways to break open the flood gates for Toronto baseball is to insert Kazmir as your rotation ace, show steady patience in welcoming Aaron Sanchez as the new set-up man, whilst acquiring Ben Revere from the city of Brotherly Love to man the outfield.

Hope you enjoyed!

Brett Murray

twitter: @bretzky26

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The "Old" Course or the "Outdated" course?

A question worth pondering, out of the last four winners that have went on to win the British Open held at the historic St.Andrews links, what do John Daly, Tiger Woods(x2), and Louis Oosthuizen have in common? If you thought the answer was three of the most incredibly fit golfers on tour, well then you have no idea as to who big John Daly is, but in all seriousness the common denominator for these recent St.Andrews victors is their incredible length off the tee. St.Andrews, which possesses fourteen par fours is a course that if you can bomb it out there, you'll have a wedge in your hand for the approach every time. Case in point our leader thus far at the halfway point in Dustin Johnson. He ranks first on the PGA Tour in driving distance with an average of three hundred and nineteen yards and with absolutely no danger lurking anywhere on the course, it's drivers paradise for the best athlete with the initials of DJ since the days of Montreal Canadien great Doug Jarvis.

I love the British Open, unquestionably my favourite major to  watch but, and I've shared this sentiment long before the 2015 Open Championship rolled around, that I just feel that this kind of course gives a borderline unfair advantage to the longer hitters. When I hear British Open,  I think of playing through windy conditions, which by the way to suspend play due to high winds as they did yesterday is outlandish, having to keep the ball low and weaving through the obscure green undulations.  None of this applies to St.Andrews, as their is no need to keep the ball low when the greens are receptive enough to spin the ball as if you were playing a tree lined golf course in America. I appreciate the kind of history that is tied with the Old course but their comes a time that serious renovations need to take place to stand the test of time, not the elementary renos that were completed before this championship. In sports history, historic venues have either been demolished or re-structured to remain competitive.  A few examples come to mind are Yankee Stadium being re-built, bidding farewell to Tigers stadium for what is now known as Comerica Park, or to keep this local, what's currently taking place in Regina with our city building a new football stadium replacing the iconic Taylor Field/Mosaic. Were people in New York upset when the original Yankee stadium was no longer home to the Yankees? better believe they were, but these type of changes are necessary to stay relevant. Under the premise that you can't just "rebuild" a golf course, what can St.Andrews do to stay relevant? What's foremost apparent is it needs to be lengthened and/or bunkers getting pushed back for them to become a strategical factor to the longer ball striker. With Dustin Johnson's ability to drive past every bunker, he'll start to forget what a bunker is in his route back to the U.S.A. Also, and I can't stress this enough is the course needs to modernize the greens. I've seen on a couple of occasions in watching ESPN's and the Golf Channel's coverage of the event, broadcasters Jim McGovern and Paul Azinger have repeatedly stated their is no breaks on these greens and all the puts are straighter then a 1995 Corey Pavin drive. This becomes a putt lagging con which unimpressively becomes unenjoyable for the average fan. The PGA and European tours use locations on a weekly basis in which greens that take more reading then it does skimming through the entire Harry Potter series, but at this course it takes less reading then it does digesting a picture book.

The Greens, the length of the course, the million yard wide fairways are all reasons why I feel, although I am cognizant of this being the home of golf, cannot be used as an Open Championship venue any longer. The R & A needs to observe the lack of fair test and be much more innovative when scouting out locations.


Brett Murray