Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2016 Scotties

With the World Curling tour well underway for the 2015-2016 winter season, although like I was mentioning last time due to playing all the way in early September now, August curling events are surely forthcoming I thought it would be fun to predict which rink I anticipate as each province/territories representative for the 2016 Scotties held this year in the northernly Grande Prairie, Alberta. What I will do is enlist the entry I foresee coming out of each province whilst providing a brief snip it forecasting why I have come to this particular conclusion. At some point shortly as well, I plan to pen a similar entry pertaining to the Brier. Enjoy!

Team Canada-Jennifer Jones

Well, kind of an obvious selection here, no? A lock as this past year's champion, this Manitoba rink and 2014 Sochi Olympic gold medalists will undoubtedly come into the event as the favourite. A repeat winner wouldn't shock anybody.

Alberta-Casey Scheidegger

The short but sweet Val Sweeting reign is over in Alberta. This Scheidegger rink is a small remnant of the former Renee Sonnnenberg rink who fared remarkably in the Roar of the Rings pre-qualifier can rely on third Cary-Anne McTaggart's experience playing a coveted event and ride it all the way winning a ridiculously difficult province.

British Columbia-Sarah Wark

Sarah Wark came awfully close to representing British Columbia in 2015 but a late implosion paved the way for Patti Knezevic to get through in a game I must unfortunately surmise was painful to watch. Retribution is definitely a thing and Wark can use that fire and desire from coming a draw away from qualifying in her last attempt to finally reaching the top of the mountain and representing B.C in a Western Canadian Scotties.

Manitoba-Shannon Birchard

We've seen this song and dance plenty of times before with skips who've just completed successful junior careers in making seamless transitions to the women's game. Rachel Homan is the most obvious example but rinks like the Van Osch foursome a couple of  years ago, to a circa 2001 Suzanne Birt(Gaudet) accomplishing these feats. It won't be easy as Manitoba has stiff competition but Birchard's background playing in the big game as she once was a finalist at the Canadian juniors will pay off.

New Brunswick-Sylvie Robichaud

This Moncton based quartet earned valuable experience playing in last years championship as the ladies division is no longer cast under the Andrea Crawford shadow and I expect we'll see Robichaud represent this province once again. They were competitive with both Jennifer Jones and Rachel Homan last go around so I wouldn't expect anything but a aquad who'll give the page playoffs a scare.

Newfoundland and Labrador-Heather Strong

A province that is looking for that curling staple like they have on the men's side with Brad Gushue. Before you go all banana's with my previous statement, I do understand that Strong has been a constant representative of a province I desperately want to visit some day but there's a difference between just being there and obstructing damage on the field. Gushie's been competitive and Newfoundland and Labrador curling has not seen desirable results since the days of Cathy Cunningham. This needs to change.

Northern Ontario-Tracy Fleury

I'm not here to discount the skillset of the Kendra Lilly rink but the Northern Ontario curling scene will be owned by Fleury(formerly Horgan) for quite some time. In fact, I will even not so boldly venture to say that this rink is currently one of the best teams in the world and as a general statement don't have a lot of recognizability within the curling community but that will quickly change as the 2015-2016 continues to evolve.

Nova Scotia-Mary-Anne Arsenault

Mary-Anne Arsenault had a great run at the Moose Jaw Scotties. I was impressed because for the first time since her inclusion on the Colleen Jones dynasty and this is including the reincarnation of that short lived Jones/Arsenault reunion which cultivated into one Scotties appearance, I saw a drive in her and a impression that she wanted this. Curling's not a sport that shells out big dollars and when you have the kind of staggering success that Mary-Anne did, complacency can set in but judging from her work last year those days are comfortably behind her.

Ontario-Rachel Homan

I'd love to pick someone aside from Rachel here with this pick because as you'd already be well aware if you're a loyal reader of this enterprise, I have  no issue with being bold but even I can't justify not going with team Homan. The work and commitment all four ladies put in to the on ice training and off ice fitness is unparalleled and essentially on the women's side they're changing the rules for youngens out there that aspire to stay competitive.

Prince Edward Island-Suzanne Birt

If you think I'm giving off the impression that I'm just repeating the 2015 representatives you wouldn't be far off. The brass tacks are that in some of these provinces the depth simply isn't there and this runs particularly true in Prince Edward Island. I like the fact that Birt teamed up with young phenom Meghan Hughes as stockpiling the best curlers from your province on the same team is never a bad idea. Maybe Suzanne will read this and appreciate me buttering her unit up and donate a little of her recent lottery splurge my way? One can hope!

Quebec-Roxanne Perron

A provincial win by Perron may challenge current Pittsburgh Penguins forward as the most popular Canadian athlete with the surname Perron. Perron has a great opportunity as perennial favourite Marie-France Larouche's play has fallen off in recent years and I'm not convinced that Lauren Mann's rink features the consistency to pull off a Quebecois double.

Saskatchewan-Chantelle Eberle

Changes galore took place pertaining to roster movement in Saskatchewan and one of the few rinks that stayed in tact was the Chantelle Eberle foursome. The old adage in sports that it takes teams, particularly newly formed ones in curling a while to mesh as broom placement is 80% of the game and a rink like Eberle who has that familiarity in spades might crack through an opening and take home the 2015 provincial title.

Northwest Territories-Kerry Galusha

Kerry, who is the sister of Kevin and Jamie Koe can use those curling bloodlines to her advantage and has done so many times before. The competition in the Territories is virtually non-existent, I give Kerry Galusha better odds getting back to Grande Prairie then I would the picking the over of 9.5 wins for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Yukon-Sarah Koltun

Conceivably you would think that a bunch of  twenty one/twenty two year olds would have no hope entering the event with a myriad of polished veterans. Not quite the case with Koltun. She's been in a million Canadian Junior events which I would imagine raises the confidence level a percentage more each time you play one combined with the fact, similarly to the Northwest Territories there is no feasible foe. Write the Koltun line up card into the Scotties program with ink. An inevitability.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Birden Bomb: Week three

Welcome to this weekly National Football League column named the "Birden Bomb" in reference to my infatuation with the play in the video game Madden '96 which was known as the, as you can probably guess, the "Birden Bomb". I will provide a few thoughts on the week that was. Enjoy!

-The handling of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was heavily scrutinized by football media pendants and a lot of that turmoil fell on then offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The Griffin-Shanahan relationship has been well documented as perceived tension existed between RG3 and Kyle's father, then Head Coach Mike Shanahan. Griffin didn't feel like his skillset which in 2015 refers to trying to hold a clipboard was utilized efficiently and as what usually transpires in your prototypical player-coach conflict, the owner sided with the prima donna star athlete and inevitably the Shanahan's were run out of D.C. After  a short stop in Cleveland, Kyle has now landed in Atlanta and has completely reformed a once readable attack. "Matty Ice" better known by people in the deep south of Georgia as Matt Ryan has become a versatile quarterback who has become more committed to a rejuvenated running game. In the first two weeks, it was rookie Tevin Coleman's stage to dance on and he flourished in front of the large audience. In the third week in which the Falcons advanced to a 3-0 mark, Devonta Freeman took over for an injured Coleman and lit up a perplexed Dallas Cowboys defensive line. The joke always was that the Falcons in recent years helplessly threw out running backs on the field who couldn't cut it in a NCAA division two contest such as Jacquizz Rodgers and a criminally overrated Stephen Jackson. Along with perennial superstar Julio Jones, the two headed running attack has now transformed the Falcons offense into a complete identity and the laurels of this transformation rest on Kyle Shanahan who's 2015 may re-engage those potential future NFL head coaching opportunities

-This is a memo meant to for all fantasy owners who decided that picking C.J Anderson in the first round was a wise maneuver. "Dear Mr.Mrs......, it's been determined that after  a wide range of analysis that picking C.J Anderson in the first round was an unforgivable faux pas and for the sake of society, never play fantasy sports again."  What has C.J Anderson done in his career to justify this Terrell Davis-esque praise?  The fact that he can convert on one yard garbage touchdowns? Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball had a case of fumbilitis which opened the door to more increased playing time for this California alumni and some(most) will vehemently disagree but I've come to the conclusion that Anderson will be supplanted by god knows who by the end of this football season and he projects to be the worst active starting running back in the league right now. I haven't seen a 3-0 team more vulnerable then the state Denver is currently in and coach Gary Kubiak would be well advised to re-assess the running back depth charts.

-Both John Michael Montgomery and myself, as you'll be able to clearly ascertain in my pre-season NFL prognostications are "sold" on the Minnesota Vikings. I figured this was a playoff team that was going to be anchored by a suffocating defence and even I didn't think the impact that Adrian Peterson would have in his return to this franchise would be so significant. The narrative in week one in the loss to the San Francisco 49'ers was that Peterson was washed up and wasn't going to help mentor young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Did Peterson not put in the needed effort because he desperately craved a change of scenery? All that banter was quickly put to rest as the narrative completely changed beginning in week two. The new and reformed Peterson is no longer interested in spanking children, spanking opposing defences is now more up his alley. Already at two hundred and ninety one yards, he's well on his way to another thousand yard season and what this has reaffirmed for me is that a Peterson led offence with an already polished defence has playoffs written all over this organization.

-Are the Baltimore Ravens a snake bitten or just a bad football team? As each loss piles on, the harder and harder it has become to consider this team unlucky. Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl champion so his resume speaks for itself but at some point he's got to find that inner fortitude and find a way to win a close football game again. They were competitive with Denver in a week one defensive slugfest, in week two's aerial attack versus Oakland, he fell victim to getting outplayed by Derek Carr and in week three couldn't find a secondary receiving option behind Steve Smith. These Ravens very much lack an identity as for years the Ray Lewis led defence struck fear into quarterbacks but in 2015, this defence strikes fear into nobody as Andy Dalton had a field day with him and A.J Green connecting on virtually everything with Baltimore having no answer. This Steve Smith v A.J Green show was compelling but Green clarified who the boss was by tallying two hundred and twenty seven yards and two touchdowns. Getting back to my point about identity, the player that stands out in a negative way referring back to the Ravens defence is Elvis Dumervil. This a football game that I saw in entirety and it was Dumervil's play that deteriorated completely. The outside linebacker created no pressure towards Dalton and it has led me to the epiphany that maybe, just maybe retirement is something this ten year pro should consider. Just atrocious defense for the second week in a row correlates to a long year in Maryland.

-Jimmy Clausen is not a NFL quarterback.  Jimmy Clausen is not a CFL quarterback. Jimmy Clausen, similarly to RG3, isn't worthy of holding  a clipboard. I've seen better quarterbacking, to use  a reference only us Canadians would understand, if I'm a fan of the Chicago Bears I'd be more comfortable with the great(not so) Akili Smith at the helm. Where do the Bears go from here? For starters, they're contractually obligated to Jay Cutler who missed the trashing at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks due to injury as it will be essentially impossible to move Cutler when you combine putrid play with a consistent injury past. Here's my convoluted theory for how the Bears can right the wrong that is their quarterback situation. There are many quality backup options that would be upgrades for the Bears across the league, Two names I would love to see the Bears focus on are E.J Manuel and Colt McCoy. Manuel, who I'm not implying that he is even remotely available but in a fantasy world and basing this on the presumption that he actually was available for trade I feel as if this would be a tremendous fit because Manuel never had the collection of receivers that the Bears possess led by Alshon Jeffrey. Manuel, who let's be honest never endeared himself to previous head coach in Buffalo Marone and when a new regime controlled by Rex Ryan came in, they opted to go in a different direction deeming the former first rounder as a thing of the past. I think if Manuel were given a second kick at the can his athleticism would shine and be  a hit for a city that has reverted back to winning ways by lieu of the Chicago Blackhawks. The second chance phenomenon has helped former quarterbacks thrown to the wolves such as Trent Green and Rich Gannon by propelling them to careers of substance. Manuel is the new school quarterback, combining a rocket arm with running back speed and this type of archetype would be a fresh look for 'da Bears. McCoy, who moreso fits into the mold of the kind of quarterback  Coach John Fox has succeeded with is most certainly available as Redskins management has repeatedly stated that they have no intention trading Griffin, who I'm just realizing is a popular tag in this segment. McCoy's a drop back passer who has susceptible speed and in his limited showings with Washington a year ago made it clear that if under the right surroundings could have a serviceable career in this league. #anyonebutCutler.

- The third episode in this sixteen episode Indianapolis Colts soap opera is now complete. A must win game for the Colts against the Tennessee Titans was tenuous at times but showed enough resilience to pick up the much needed win, some may even conjure a must win.  I've commented on this before but I don't understand the management-coaching dynamic in Indy. As a backstory, the Indianapolis Colts were pinpointed as one of the few true contenders coming into the season out of the AFC but a shaky start compounded by them not electing to offer up Chuck Pagano a contract extension has led to tumultuous beginnings, and we've only just completed in week three. I'm no PR expert but when your coach goes rogue and says he's not sure if he'll be a member of the Colts come 2016, this is an absolutely unnecessary subplot for the players to deal with when they're already webbed in an 0-2 start. The circus off the field could've been damaging to this franchise but credit to Andrew Luck as he displayed  his true leadership skills and found a way to upend the Titans late and save the season.

-Is anyone else prepared like myself to after week three hand the New England Patriots the AFC championship? Okay...maybe  a slight overreaction from this know-it-all blogger but you can't dispute the MVP type of numbers from a quarterback who was supposedly suspended for the first four weeks. The lack of ability to enforce discipline on commissioner Roger Goodell's part did no favors to the likes of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers. Two years ago, the mantra for the Patriots was that Tom Brady would find a way to win games but wouldn't put up eye popping statistics but throughout the last two years that reputation has completely erased as now Tom Brady is throwing for three hundred yards like nobody's business. This year, and once again I'm referring back to my overreaction which opened this paragraph is after they toast another Super Bowl title, I'm guessing that Tom Brady will find the time to partake in the infamous Gronk party cruise.

-The Lambeau Leap is becoming a prominent fixture at Green Bay Packers games of late. Is Aaron Rodgers the most athletic Quarterback in the business? Absolutely not, but what Aaron Rodgers has is a variable that maybe only Tom Brady also lays claim to, and that's the ability to use decoys to create wide open spaces for his lesser weapons. Randall Cobb for example everybody on earth is aware that health wise, Cobb isn't 100% but Rodgers and the offensive coordinator for the Pack map it out so Cobb will run his continual decoy routes to allow the likes of Devante Adams and Quarless to flourish. It's not so much how effective the stud receiver is, and other teams can learn from this, the sheer presence is more than enough and when I see teams like, not to overly bag on teams like the Ravens, but when you stuff the ball down one receivers throat like they do with Steve Smith the defence will begin to salivate over the predictability.   This unpredictability is exactly why Mike McCarthy and co are cruising to a 3-0 start and the Kansas City Chiefs are a formidable foe!


Regina Pats Observations Games one and two

The 2015-2016 Western Hockey League campaign commenced this past weekend which is always an exciting time for me as junior hockey is near and dear to my heart. The Regina Pats kicked off this 50th anniversary by partaking in an opening home and home series against their highway # 1 rivals, the Moose Jaw Warriors. The Pats accumulated two out of a possible four points, losing in regulation in the Jaw on opening night and two nights later upending those same Warriors in overtime. I will provide my thoughts on what I've seen from the Regina Pats over these two nights.

-Nikolai Knyzhov, the Russian defenceman who played last year in Arizona is not ready to play contributable minutes in the Western Hockey League. I look back to last year when John Paddock who at the time had a fresh outlook on this franchise elected to send home Maximillian Kammerer, the eighteen year old German who was a deer in the headlights throughout 2013-2014 was sent home in favour of the Regina Pats going in the direction of acquiring your second import via trade which happened to be the consummate fit in Pavel Padakin. I've read in reports, listened to radio interviews over the last several years, most notably from Red  Deer Rebels coach and general manager Brent Sutter in which Sutter made the implication that if your import can't play a top six forward role, or top four defensive pairing there is no use for said player. If all your import is accomplishing is playing a bottom, lesser role, a North American who doesn't cost you that spot can fulfill the same role. The Western Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League at it's core is a developmental league so back to my original premise there is no need for Knyzhov on this team as transitioning from the offensive to defensive zones he is a hot mess. I'm upset that they re-assigned Ryan Krushen because what I saw last year was a young individual who fit in, and would've fit in Knyzhov's role. Ideally, what I would loved to see is the Pats ignore the temptation to bring in Aaron Macklin, who's play  I will admit was commendable on opening weekend and thus opening a double spot for Rikard Bukarts(the assumption is that they would then cut ties with Knyzhov) and once Colby Williams an Taylor Cooper are healthy and ready to go you then trade a goaltender who I'm expecting will have decent value in Daniel Wapple.

-Riley Woods played alright in limited action. The expectation that I personally have is that Woods is holding down a roster spot until the aforementioned Cooper comes back and Woods role until that day arrives is a little foggy He's nothing more than a fourth liner when battling through five on five action but if you believe that his tremendous offensive escapades can be carried forward from Midget AAA that saw Woods lead the charge for the Regina Pat Canadians all the way to the Telus Cup to the dub level then time on the second power play unit is somewhere he can thrive. I've said many a times that Austin Wagner may be the Pats most productive player by years end but until Wagner's hands match up with his feet then it makes sense to implement Woods on the power play unit.

-James Hilsendager will be a name that Pat supporters, and observers from the entire league are going to become more familiar with.  I was actually shocked that he was passed over in the past summers NHL entry draft because at being listed at 6'1, he's a great skater and is a budding star in the league.  Although Connor Hobbs plays stood out in the Pats opener, it was my opinion that Hilsendager was the most reliable as he did nothing that will stand out but was a excellent stop gap to prevent the likes of Dryden Hunt to run silly(although I suppose he did in Regina). The Warriors have oodles of speed in the forward position which stresses the importance of strong back-end attention to detail, something James did masterfully.

-Going into the weekend and for obvious reasons, the biggest question mark was Lane Zablocki and for good reason. Involved in a very controversial trade with the Prince George Cougars that sent Jesse Gabrielle I was desperately hoping to be left in a  positive light at games end, which unfortunately I was not. The scouting report coming in was that Zablocki possessed above average offensive instincts but lacked sound skating skills. Both reports after watching him play I can agree with the upmost certainty that these are accurate. However, for a player that was dealt for a future first liner I need to see more! Playing alongside Sam Steel which I'm presuming is the game plan Paddock will employ the rest of the way being as how the purported team philosophy is to throw all the eggs in the 2015-2016 basket and Zablocki's birth year of 1998 plays in Lane's favor as he can be Sam's running mate for a few seasons but will need to see more speed as he was consistently behind the play and by correlation caused Sam to slow down and not utilize his creativity at high speed which he is recognizable for. Goals aren't always the statistic that I clamor over as goals don't signal the players entire ability and though Zablocki scored, a more of a complete presence is required. As a Pats fan, I'm hopeful but would be a misnomer if I classified myself as optimistic.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

National Football League picks:Week three

I'm graceless! After what I thought was the lowest of lows compiling a 6-9 mark, I somehow managed to lessen that mark in week two going 5-10 bringing my overall record to 11-20. A more respectable week is in order so in other word, here comes to the 3-12 week! As per always, winners in bold.

Cincinnati @ Baltimore
Buffalo @ Miami
Indianapolis @ Tennessee
Denver @ Detroit
Tampa Bay @ Houston
Arizona @ San Francisco
Chicago @ Seattle
New Orleans @ Carolina
Philadelphia @ New York(J)
Jacksonville @ New England
Pittsburgh @ St.Louis
Atlanta @ Dallas
San Diego @ Minnesota
Oakland @ Cleveland
Kansas City @ Green Bay

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Torts meant to coach sports?

Safe to say that when writing the memoir on the coaching career of John Tortorella, the story could spin  in a multitude amount of directions. In the world of professional sports, they aren't many as intimidating coaches that come to mind when it comes to the sheer presence they impose while instructing the generals as their is with the man they affectionately call "Torts". For a man that really only entered the limelight fifteen or so years ago, he's lived such an iconic journey down a path that is widely perceived to be a unsecure profession. From early successes in the American Hockey League to rejuvenating a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that was smeared with bad publicity into eventual Stanley Cup champions to proceeding to overtake a franchise in a media hotbed, ala New York City to after being thrown to wolves in the Big Apple having his demeanor torn apart by the at times overbearing Western Canadian media coaching the Vancouver Canucks. In between these coaching stints, he sprinkled in some broadcasting working alongside TSN's James Duthie as a member of the NHL on TSN panel in which he would consistently make a mockery of the quiz. It was thought that after less than memorable outings in both New York and Vancouver that he was blacklisted in the coaching fraternity, but to the surprise of most he was chosen as the Head Coach to lead Team U.S.A in the 2016 World Cup of  Hockey. As stated many times by commissioner Gary Bettman, the premise behind instituting the World Cup was to grow the game, is John Tortorella someone that you want associated with when attempting to complete this very mission?

Controversial. If forced to use one adjective that would be the best descriptor however the complexity of Tortorella goes well  beyond such an overused hyperbole. He's witty with a very dry sense of humor something that is not picked up on easily as the national media outlets are enamored and fixated on the reputation he built up in his tense pleasantries with New York post columnist Larry Brooks. Firey coaches are the norm across the world of sports, think back to Lou Piniella, Jeff Van Gundy, Jim Schonefield and the names I just mentioned are seen in a good light so why is it that Tortorella doesn't get the same love and respect? Unlike Piniella and Van Gundy, Tortorella is a champion of his sport that's "controversial"(again overused adjective) methods are unconventional but successful. I give Dean Lombardi major props for not sticking to the script and bucking the trend and supplying Torts a way to get back in the good graces of the National Hockey League. If better restraint with his own players is shown in this international tenure, a route back to the pro's in plausible. One of the more frowned upon moments with John was when he used expletives to describe the behavior of Sean Avery on the TSN panel while unemployed only to make a push to acquire him when he was given the New York Rangers job. These kind of contradictory maneuvers do nothing as what it shows, to me anyways is that he doesn't stick up for what he believes, the ultimate last straw when it comes to that all important player-coach relationship.

Gary Bettman talks about wanting to grow the game, having a colorful personality like Mr.Tortorella on board would be a good start.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wheat Kings versus..........

To continue my what I intend to be extensive Western Hockey League coverage, I'm going to prognosticate the Western Hockey League standings for how I see fit and then predict the playoffs based off of my aforementioned standings. Some teams I may rate higher or lower which could contradict some analysis I construed back in July in my league preview but the climate has changed for some teams and my standings will reflect that.

Eastern Division:

1.Brandon Wheat Kings
2.Saskatoon Blades
3.Moose Jaw Warriors
4.Regina Pats(W2)
5.Prince Albert Raiders
6.Swift Current Broncos

Central Division:

1.Red Deer Rebels
2.Calgary Hitmen
3.Edmonton Oil Kings
4.Lethbridge Hurricanes(W1)
5.Medicine Hat Tigers
6.Kootenay Ice

B.C Division:

1.Kelowna Rockets
2.Prince George Cougars
3.Kamloops Blazers
4.Vancouver Giants(W2)
5.Victoria Royals

U.S Division:

1.Seattle Thunderbirds
2.Spokane Chiefs
3.Everett Silvertips
4.Portland Winterhawks(W1)
5.Tri-City Americans


First round:

Brandon Wheat Kings v (W2) Regina Pats=Brandon in five
Red Deer Rebels (W1) Lethbridge Hurricanes=Lethbridge in seven
Saskatoon Blades v Moose Jaw Warriors=Saskatoon in seven
Calgary Hitmen v Edmonton Oil Kings=Calgary in six

Kelowna Rockets v (W2) Vancouver Giants=Kelowna in four
Seattle Thunderbirds v (W1) Portland Winterhawks=Seattle in five
Prince George Cougars v Kamloops Blazers=Prince George in five
Spokane Chiefs v Everett Silvertips=Everett in seven

Second Round:

Brandon Wheat Kings v Saskatoon Blades=Brandon in four
Calgary Hitmen v Lethbridge Hurricanes=Lethbridge in seven

Kelowna Rockets v Prince George Cougars=Kelowna in six
Seattle Thunderbirds v Everett Silvertips=Seattle in five

Third round:

Brandon Wheat Kings v Lethbridge Hurricanes=Brandon in four
Kelowna Rockets v Seattle Thunderbirds=Kelowna in seven

Western Hockey League final:

Brandon Wheat Kings v Kelowna Rockets=Brandon Wheat Kings win the WHL championship in five games.

The Knuckle Ball:Volume six

Welcome to this segment that I call the "Knuckle Ball" where basically I spew off my thoughts on a few items in the world of baseball. On tap for today I will look at the exciting American League rookie of the year race. The second item up for debate will be something that was discussed on the MLB network a little earlier this year and that was their interpretation that  Colorado Rockies third basemen Nolan Arenado was one of the top five young baseball players in the game. I obviously disagree and will explain why later on. Lastly, because this will be for all purposes the last regular season edition, I will choose the two teams I see meeting up in this years fall classic and why I have come to this particular conclusion.

The American League Rookie of the Year race is certainly an intriguing one. Before the All-star break, it was a foregone conclusion that Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros had the award on lockdown, some including myself would've considered him a darkhorse M.V.P candidate. Truth be told, the fact that he didn't spend the entire year with the Astros organization was always going to be a hindrance when it came to the writers voting on the award but at the very least he has all but guaranteed himself hardware by being the odds on favourite for R.O.Y right? Not so fast, as two notable contenders have emerged from the woodwork and may have even surpassed Correa on the odds list. These two names happen to be Mark Canha of the Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna. Let's first look at the merits of the young Athletic outfielder.  The prevailing opinion is that Canha isn't even the Athletics top rookie as most will suggest that mantra belongs to Billy Burns but I'm here to tell you based off of team value, Canha wins out simply when judging versatility. I'll pose it this way, what do the Oakland Athletics lack as a team? if you guessed everything in jest, you're not far off but to go down this route a little more seriously what they truly lack is team power. After deciding to gift wrap the "Bringer of Rain" Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays, they ridded themselves of 1/2 of their home run pop with only Josh Reddick possessing natural slugging abilities. Step on  up Mark Canha to aptly reference the hit game show Price is Right. Canha is the only rookie in consideration for the award that has showed consistent power for the award aside from the man who strikes out so much that it makes former Jays catcher J.P Arencibia look like a patient hitter in Steven Souza. Judging solely on the statistical line, Canha's the prototypical multi tooled player as he steals bases(seven on this year thusfar), is walloping the rest of the A.L rookie candidates in RBI's and that's saying something  as some nights the Athletics give off a minor ball club vibe even further impressive considering for a large part of the year he was hitting seventh and behind Billy Butler and as all close knit baseball observers know, getting Butler home is no easy task unless a cheeseburger is waiting at home plate. Burns can steal bases, Canha does everything else well which makes him not only the Athletics top rookie but a candidate for the league honours. Roberto Osuna on the other hand has been thrust into the spotlight on a contending baseball team. It's amazing to realize that going into the year, the Jays closer reign was handed to Brett Cecil which quickly shifted to current Colorado Rockie Miguel Castro and eventually to Roberto Osuna. Osuna took the closer role and ran. Seventeen saves in nineteen opportunities is commendable as that type of progress would be satisfactory for  a seasoned veteran let alone for a rookie. Osuna's on-field demeanor is nothing like what a rookie generally exudes as he's calm and has an incredibly quick recovery time after allowing a big  hit/home run. What may throw Osuna into the front runner category is the role he plays on a team destined for the playoffs and sure Astros Carlos Correa is also entrusted in the pennant race but the role he plays fails in comparison to the nightly pressure put on Osuna. In summary, Carlos Correa will win the award due to name recognition but the contributions of both Canha and Osuna should not be ignored.

So, I was going to make reference of this earlier but it slipped my mind so I thought I would give my two cents on this now. I was watching a program on the MLB Network earlier this summer, and  a panel headlined by the great Harold Reynolds was discerning who the top five young players under the age of twenty five were. Mike Trout, obviously, Bryce Harper, he's a MVP candidate in the National League,Kris Bryant may in fact lead the charge and break the curse with the Cubbies so by no doubt is he on this list, Manny Machado is the new Cal Ripken Jr. in Maryland as he's an absolute masher at the age of twenty three. Nolan Arenado? The fifth player in the top five consensus according to the MLB network is a good player, a franchise player would be stretching out his limits and certainly is not one of the best five players under the age of twenty five. If they weren't intending to include pitchers on this list then it's forgivable that they didn't choose to include the likes of Jose Fernandez and Michael Wacha but if pitchers were on the docket then coming to the conclusion that Arenado is more of a franchise player than those two hurlers is laughable. The problem I have with Arenado is, and once again I will preface this by saying that he's a good player is that he doesn't do one thing great. The definition of a great player is that he must do something great courtesy of the dictionary for dummies so I ask, what does Arenado do spectacularly? He's a good season hitting the home run ball but playing in the Colorado altitude as in years past, hacks like Dante Bichette have played in Denver coming out looking like Mark McGwire. The altitude cancels out his home run achievements. Does he run the base paths well? At six career stolen bases, the blog's resident whipping post Mo Vaughn is more of a threat to swipe a bag. Does he field well playing the hot corner? After watching Chase Headley play the hot corner for the New York Yankees against the Toronto Blue Jays the last two nights and when analyzing his twenty seven errors over the last two seasons, I have a hard time differentiating which player I'm least comfortable playing defence. Arenado screams good player but the continued undeserved hype of this individual will quickly transition himself into the overrated category.

It's that time.... which two teams does this blogger foresee meeting up in the 2015 World Series? The playoffs are going to be an absolute epic battle as theirs not one team potentially headed to the dance that I would give zero chance to(okay, maybe the Twins).  As a Canadian, my selection of the Toronto Blue Jays will be perceived with a great deal of bias but nonetheless I will begin this by proclaiming that my American League selection is indeed the Toronto Blue Jays. Why the Blue Jays in the AL? Ever since General Manager Alex Anthopoulos made the trades in late July that brought over Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and Ben Revere this organization has kicked into high gear. Defensively, their the most sound team out of all the contenders even with Tulowitzki out with a cracked bone in the shoulder as his short stop replacement Ryan Goins is the best in the game and not many can provide an alternative name to make a valid argument. Starting pitching has been, so steal  a catch phrase from great Big Brother Canada season two contestant Paul Jackson "insane bro". David Price's dominance was expected pre arrival and he has done nothing to put any damper in these expectaitions. R. A Dickey, the Blue Jays resident Knuckle baller after a dismal first half of the season has completely turned around his fortunes and has been the second most effective pitcher this club has to offer. Marco  Estrada who came over from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Adam Lind has been a god's send as a guy who started this campaign in the bullpen will likely be called upon by John Gibbons to make an important playoff start. The escapades of this offence has been well documented as the trio of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion has been at times unstoppable. The aforementioned three get all the headlines but the offensive prowess of Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins, yes the same Ryan Goins who at one point Sportsnet/Fan 590's Mike Wilner entertained should be batting tenth in the order are providing pivotal contributions. The bullpen is the one sore spot and hopefully won't hinder a hopefully long playoff run. In the last two weeks, relievers Aaron Sanchez and Mark Lowe are battling consistency issues and you start to ponder that in a meaningful October game, would Gibbons show enough comfort in giving Sanchez the ball in the eighth inning or perhaps the safer play would be to employ Brett Cecil in that situation. A healthy conversation that my friend and I immersed in the other day was whether Mark Buehrle could be that set-up guy come playoff time considering he'll likely be that starter that draws the wrong straw pertaining to playoff assignments.  Barring significant injuries, this club will be representing the American League in the World Series. In the National League, the team I'm favouring are the New York Mets.  The Mets, who surprisingly are getting more play in local papers compared to the Yankees but maybe that shouldn't be totally surprising the drama that has ensued lately, from the "Dark Knight" Matt Harvey employing a sudden innings count, to Wilmer Flores crying on the field after finding out he was traded only to later discover that the trade never happened. The 2015 New York Mets story could be Hollywood worthy and a World Series championship would be the icing on the cake in completing this emmy-esque script.  I talked a little while earlier about the Jays starting pitching as being scary good, and I'm not quite sure I can provide an appropriate adjective for how good the Mets starters are and can be. Going into the post-season, they're going to fire out a rotation consisting of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, and Bartolo Colon.  Jeurys Familia has provided stability for the closing role and the acquisition of Addison Reed, who I was praying the Blue Jays would've been after may be that ultimate "Dark Knight" when Terry Collins assesses the bullpen structure. Does Yoenis Cespedes deserve the National League Most Valuable honour after only suiting up with the Mets for the last half of the season after spending the first half with the Detroit Tigers? My answer is no, but that's a conversation for another day. Cespedes arriving in New York has changed the identity of this team as what it's done is it's allowed quasi-juggernauts like Lukas Duda and Wilmer Flores to hit in rolls that they're more comfortable with. After creating his own mess with the Carlos Gomez no trade, General Manager Sandy Alderson must be thanking the heavens as can you imagine a world where the Mets went to battle with Carlos Gomex and not Yoenis Cespedes? It may have been a satisfactory world, but not a world that will ultimately lead to a World Series appearance.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Top 125 and counting......

The Western Hockey League today unveiled a list that I'm assuming it's sole purpose of unveilment was to spark a  great deal of controversy and banter being how we're days away from the commencement of the 2015-2016 regular season. When I perused through this list, which for clarification purposes was a list consisting of the top one hundred and twenty five players in the league's history, some notable omissions were visible. As a disclaimer, as with any list there's a quarrel of subjectivity that goes into the making of these, and when I give my below thoughts by no means am I saying conclusively that the picks that I'm choosing to omit are not worthy, I'm just here to provide input on players that I believe deserve to be on the list. What I will do is include three names that I am choosing to take off the list with naming a replacement for each.

Andrew Ladd(Vancouver Giant/Calgary Hitmen) replacing with Gilbert Brule(Vancouver Giants)

All due respect to Andrew Ladd as what he has done professionally has exceeded even my wildest expectations, but we're basing this solely of Western Hockey League escapades, and by no means do I correlate a great junior hockey player with Andrew Ladd. Essentially, during the majority of his tenure with the Calgary Hitmen he was able to ride Ryan Getzlaf's coat tails which pampered his mediocre statistic line. Ladd is widely considered as one of the best leaders in the game but unfortunately that doesn't translate to an incredible junior specimen.

Gilbert Brule was from my viewpoint the original Giant. He revolutionized the way Giant hockey was played for nearly a decade. His statistics while playing for the Giants were extraordinary and further to that, his leadership on the ice led to increased team success being featured in a Memorial Cup. Although up for debate as many will signal Brendan Gallagher's way, I could make a strong case for Brule being the greatest Giant ever thusfar. Brule didn't have as much to work with compared to Gallagher, stat lines are similar which leads me to this theory, Is this list aided by a  players evolution to the professional ranks, because if so I find that vastly unfair. So what that Brule seemingly lost his passion to play at an early age, you can't take away that he was a great member of the WHL.

Marian Hossa(Portland Winterhawks) replacing with Greg Evtushevski(Kamloops Junior Oilers/Blazers)

This one causes me the most grief. Why the heck is Marian Hossa on this list?? The  Western Hockey League historians are rewarding players for abusing the system to fast track their way to the National Hockey League. It's  a joke. He was a member of the Portland Winterhawks for one season. Hossa came to the Western Hockey League for one purpose, and one purpose only and that was to get his one year of service in North America under his belt to show NHL scouts he was ready for the next level. If he was told prior to the 1997-1998 hockey season that he would require another year of seasoning he would've bolted back to Europe, this is factual. Based off of Hossa's inclusion, I want to know where the Martin Hanzal's, Peter Kalus', and the Marek Schwarz's are on this list? Laughable!

Greg Evtushevski(not a name I want to particularly keep typing out) doesn't get the credit he deserves due to being overshadowed by more prominent names on the Kamloops' teams. For two seasons, Greg lined up alongside Dean Evason, who later made a name for himself in coaching circles and for that reason he's not getting the love from the "historians" because the perception was that he was carried by Evason. Evtushevski(take three) lacks recognizability among most but this diminutive speedster at 5'8 was a pioneer of sorts because as the game during the mid to late eighties was becoming more clutching and grabbing themed,  he showed that a small player can still succeed in this type of environment.

Adam Lowry(Swift Current Broncos) replacing with Jordan Weal(Regina Pats)

For another disclaimer, they aren't many bigger Adam Lowry fans out there, but I'm sorry are we once again condoning a one hit wonder during his stay in the Western Hockey League? From what I remember unless I'm way out to lunch, which I'm not is that Lowry actually underachieved during his junior career sans the 2012-2013 campaign.  Yes, his season in 12-13 was M.V.P-esque but other than that he struggled with consistency as fans of Speedy Creek clamored to a player that was big and strong but lacked any tangible hockey I.Q. His play has immensely developed under the watchful eye of the Winnipeg Jets and he now projects to be a serviceable top nine forward.

 I can speak on the value of Jordan Weal with a degree of background as a local Reginan I saw the player Weal developed into while a member of the  Regina Pats. Some will vehemently disagree with this, and that's okay but from my experience we can't definitively say that all of Weal success' were due to Jordan Eberle in the picture but what I will ascertain is that a lot of Eberle's junior exploits can be in thanks of Weal. Eberle gets preferential treatment for who he was, being the local boy and scoring a plethora of ridiculous goals at the World Junior Hockey Championships but what Weal has done is as special. By no means am I implying that Eberle should be off this list, because in reality he's probably top twenty five within the top one hundred and twenty five but at same token Jordan Weal also deserves great recognition, something for whatever reason he isn't receiving.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Birden Bomb:Week two

Welcome to this weekly National Football League column named the "Birden Bomb" in reference to my infatuation with the play in the video game Madden '96 which was known as the, as you can probably guess, the "Birden Bomb". I will provide a few thoughts on the week that was. Enjoy!

-If you haven't been able to surmise by now that when it comes to predictions I hold no reputability and to validate that point, look no further than the New Orleans Saints.  I had picked the Saints as my pre-season favourite for the NFC south and they have limped out of the gate at  a 0-2 mark.  I for one was under the belief that the  Jimmy Graham acquisition would have a tremendous impact on this organization but maybe not quite to the degree that is actually has. Look at this week's game for instance where the New Orleans got off to a dismal start but courageously fought back to make it an exciting game at the end. The final drive which saw the Saints go marching down until a final leap by Quarterback Drew Brees was all for not but you have to wonder if the presence of Jimmy Graham would've led to a different result. Graham is an athletical freak, something that they anticipate Oregon State product Brandin Cooks becoming but his game is still under refinement. To reference the old adage, short term pain for long term gain is a prevalent one in the Bayou but how much pain Saints fan will have to endure is still under debate.

-Will the real Cleveland Browns please step up? After embarrassing themselves against a team that I consider below average in the New York Jets, they battled back in week two with Johnny Football behind center and opposed a red hot Tennessee Titans coming off a week where Marcus Mariota showed a resemblance to Joe Montana. In the first half, not only did the Browns put the game out of reach early by jumping to a 21-0 lead, they stifled an offence that was very committed to the running game early, and whether that was a recommendable strategy I will discuss below, and essentially forced Mariota and the Titans out of their comfort zone. This result was disastrous to my fantasy football team as I begrudgingly started the Titans trifecta consisting of Mariota-Kendall Wright, and the Titans defence which will PROBABLY lead to a loss but getting back to the Browns, Manziel may steal all the headlines but it's that dang defence that deserves full recognition. Karlos Dansby showed why he is widely considered to be one of the best defenders in the nation as with nine tackles and a possible candidate for player of the week honors, it's safe to assume this Auburn grad had a much more enriching week than his alma matter.

-Watching that Houston/Carolina game today has led me to a few observations. First, if Texans fan weren't already upset enough with Head Coach Bill O'Brien, than just imagine the mood on post game talk shows will be like. O'Brien was a hot shot coaching candidate coming out of Penn State, but to be completely honest he should be reprimanded for how the quarterbacking carousel has bee handled. They brought in Brian Hoyer from the Cleveland Browns to lead the troops, and after ONE shaky first half in week one, a benching was granted and in came Ryan Mallett?? Hoyer was fantastic with Cleveland a year ago up until his injury paved the way for the aforementioned Manziel was expected to right the sinking ship that has been Houston QB's as of late. It's one thing to take bold measures as these coaches do reside in an "what have you done for me lately" league but nonetheless, a premature overreaction on O'Briens part will and probably already has amounted to the inevitable locker room rifts. Secondarily in this very same game, and I brought up a similar complaint last week as this may be a weekly rant, I'm not understanding the lack of an aerial attack on behalf of the Panthers. Sure, they're 2-0 after all is what you're probably thinking so why would I have an issue? Well.....here's why, the Carolina Panthers lost Kelvim Benjamin to a season ending injury, but this team has a plethora of competent receivers that are being under utilized. Devin Funchess, similarly to Jimmy Graham is an athletical animal and the Panthers offensive attack has to find a better way of keeping more engaged in this offence. Even when analyzing Ted Ginn's contributions, the guy is a one dimensional receiver as you can throw it out wide and let him chase, might as well label him as Ted "Puppy dog" Ginn but he's not being used effectively. The Panthers are a classic case of a team that I wasn't sold on in the pre-season but I'm beginning to warm up to, my only complaint has been the offensive game planning.

-As I promised, the lack of substance in the Tennessee Titans running game is concerning for this quasi fan, although people who know me closely, me representing a team that I view as a "quasi "fan is a misnomer, as I don't have a true team that I ride or die by, I'm the prototypical bandwagon jumper. Getting back to the topic at hand, I understand Dexter McCluster, to reference my inner Southern American word of phrase, had a game this afternoon. The issue I have, and this may be a partial bias when frowning over my fantasy football struggles is where was Bishop Sankey today? Only fourty two yards on the ground is unacceptable for Bishop and the Tennessee Titans have to find a way to get more creative with him in the passing game.

-Tom Brady is back in a gargantuan way. He lit up a Buffalo Bills defence that just the week before stymied the great Andrew Luck and Indianapolis. The defending champions are imposing their will over the rest of National Football league. Cheaters or not, they're ruthless and the question that must be asked is their any defensive back on the planet that can match up with Rob Gronkowski. The answer is  a resounding no and they can deflate all the footballs they want, another Super bowl ring for Brady and Pats may be forthcoming.

- I used to hold the CEO and presidency titles when it came to the anti Carson Palmer fan club. He was a  big baby in Cincinnati and threatened retirement if he wasn't moved, turned back Oakland's development by two years by ruining the Raiders and then he was brought in by a supposedly lifeless Arizona football club. What he's done under coach Bruce Arians in Arizona is unfathomable to me as he's a new quarterback. He's clearly matured as he's no longer the turnover machine he was once was and this now veteran is putting his stamp down on this franchise as his real value was shown last year during the Cardinal's late season swoon when he was down with an injury. The chemistry between himself and Larry Fitzgerald is phenomenal.

-I'm not sure the reasoning behind the change of philosophy of the Seattle Seahawks offensive tendencies. Was it Marshawn Lynch's mom bemoaning offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell that has led to Lynch's diminished role in week two? Is it Russell Wilson having a higher confidence level in his receivers/tight ends that has led to this? Whatever the truth is, it's equated to an 0-2 start.  Just my humble observation but when I watch Lynch play I don't see a player that shows enough grit on the field, I think the nickname "beast-mode" is wearing thin on the Northwest and the longer this drags on, the more likely an off-season trade will be consummated. A deal with Lynch was nearly struck this past off-season, and I can all but guarantee a trade will be in the cards if the Seahawks fail to qualify for the post-season.

-The Indianapolis Colts have been marred in a bunch of bad 'luck' eh? After another transparent weekly performance, this time against those New York Jets, that ever present reported rift between management and coach Pagano won't let up, if anything it will fester even more. Watching the Colts in 2015, and I didn't necessarily have the same opinion in 2014 and that's they elected to throw all of their eggs in the Andrew Luck basket, which some will venture to say that's not a faulty line of thinking, but when you lack the offensive line depth, don't have the necessatative receiving core sans T.Y Hilton, and anytime you have a running game carried by the out of his prime Frank Gore(did he ever really have  a prime?) you're in a world of hurt. All this talk about coach Pagano being on the proverbial hot seat may be misplaced, it's time General Manager Ryan Grigson looks himself in the mirror.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jason Day here to stay

Jason Day here to stay, the quintessential title for this piece as judging from recent results in this 2015 PGA Tour season, Day is going nowhere but up. In lieu of his win at the BMW championship this Sunday, he can now stake claim to the distinction of being the number one player in the world. The season has been an interesting one, almost a tale of two halves. The first half of the season was in large part dominated by American Jordan Spieth as he took home the first two majors of the season but shortly before the U.S Open, an event that Day also came close to conquering, a switch was flipped and a player as we know him today was re-born.

Throughout the completion of the U.S Open, a storyline was developing that was beginning to take the sporting world by storm. Nearing the eighteenth green on his second round of play, Day began to present some vertigo symptoms that hampered his ability to stay upward. Vertigo is a nasty ailment, something I've been dealing with largely over the last two years so the fact that he was able to  regain his composure and balance to finish out the hole  and stay in contention for the championship  was inspirational. Purportedly, some tests were done that Friday night and he was cleared to resume action for the Saturday The eventual diagnosis was a benign ear infection which allowed him to consume the appropriate medication to resume playing. Although he didn't end up winning this major, the fans he made at Chambers Bay were countless and even though he was a superstar golfer long before this championship, if it's even possible his popularity increased. Another close call could be damaging for  a player that for whatever reason wasn't able to find a way to break through, but Day's mental strength and support system carried him forward to even better things for the rest of 2015 which we'll discuss now!

Here's an amazing statistic, in Day's last eight events on tour he has not finished outside the top fifteen. That's remarkable and so has been his late summer stretch. Winning the RBC Canadian Open in late July was the start to unforeseen type of dominance, he then parlayed that confidence with a win at a prestigious major, the PGA championship where we saw him trump former world number one Jordan Spieth in a duel.  Some that don't share Day's resilience may start to exude complacency but he used that major reign to allow himself to bring more trophies home. Next we saw him show up at the Barclay's, his very next event and the consummation of the FedEx cup playoffs and he won again. That's enough right?  Not quite, because like I eluded to in my opening that Jason Day is here to stay! The winning streak temporarily snapped at the Deutsche Bank championship, but you win as often as he does you can begin to look like Fred Funk now and again. You're now thinking, Day can't go more than one event without winning right? Why, that's correct as this past weekend he captured the BMW.

Who deserves Player of the Year? Jordan Spieth on the surface may be the obvious choice because he has the two majors in his back pocket but what Jason has accomplished cannot be overlooked, and it's really not because combining his late summer heroics with also contending in the other majors he didn't win(I know, so did Spieth) is why I'm proclaiming Jason Day as your PGA player of the year for 2015.

National Football League picks: Week two

Last week's picks abysmally led me a 6-9 record. Let's see if I can right the ship this weekend. Here's to a 15-0 slate! Winners in bold.

Atlanta @ New York(G)
New York(J) @ Indianapolis
Arizona @ Chicago
Miami @ Jacksonville
Tampa Bay @ New Orleans
Dallas @ Philadelphia
Seattle @ Green Bay
Houston @ Carolina
San Diego @ Cincinnati
Detroit @ Minnesota
Baltimore @ Oakland
San Francisco @ Pittsburgh
New England @ Buffalo
Tennessee @ Cleveland
St.Louis @ Washington

Saturday, September 19, 2015

To catch or not to catch the Royals

A good friend of mine and I immersed in a debate this evening in the context of whether or not it would be beneficial for the Blue Jays to catch the skidding Kansas City Royals for the first overall position and end up playing the American League wildcard representative which could very well end up being the New York Yankees. I took the correct stance that there's not one team in all of baseball that'd I'd rather least suit up against in the divisional series round. Statistics will point out that the Blue Jays have had a relative amount of success against the Bronx Bombers as of late but statistics don't tell the entire story and frankly the Yankees are not a good matchup for us(see what I did there, I'm beginning to act like a fan that's supported this team for years). With the exception of games started by Ivan Nova who will not be one of the starters when the post-season dance commences, the Jays have consistently struggled to produce runs particularly against Tanaka and Pineda. If we lived in a world where an assurance was made that the Blue Jays could finish first overall and avoid the New York Yankees in American Divisional series then I would be on board, but that's not the kind of world we live in and due to that there are far too many risks inherited with securing that number one seed. Heck, and some will be able to vouch for me when I say that I've been on the lookout for the Cleveland Indians for some time now and even facing off against the Tribe would not be the most endearing scenario ever. Say what you want about this team up North, but the fact is when it comes to squaring off against the opposition's one or two best pitchers, the success level decreases drastically although in fairness to the Blue Jays this is just the nature of sport of when you face the best, the likelihood of winning goes down. Playing one of the Twins, who like I have said on past occasions will eat crow if they make the post-season, the Astros or the Angels I could stomach because I've witnessed enough flaws with these ball clubs to have the confidence that the Jays could handle them with relative ease. I pose my hypothesis the following way, would you rather go to the dance with a rotation that will fire out a combination of Severino-Pineda-Tanaka or dance with the boys from the state where everything's bigger that will send over Cole Hamels-Yovani Gallardo-Derek Holland? Is that even a thought provoking question? It's not, as much as I respect the work of Gallardo who I believe I pegged as one of the Cy Young candidates coming into this season, I'd much rather take my chances beating Hamels and Holland then the nucleus of great young Yankees pitching  I'll tell you what you can take way form this blog posting and from my thoughts in general. Tonight, I've struck internal fear with facing the New York Yankees or Cleveland Indians and have essentially written off the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles of Anaheim Angels and Houston Astros. My prognostication  track record is so bad, that it's become something of infamy so in other words any true Jay fans out there should be praying to the heaven's that they don't end up battling this trio as a jinxed series loss is inevitable.

My apologies Canada!

If you enjoy my work, please shoot me a line via e-mail at brett_h_murray@hotmail.com or through my twitter handle at @bretzky26. I appreciate you taking the time to read as I continue look to grow this "enterprise".

Friday, September 18, 2015

Leading the troops

When dissecting the Regina Pats pre-season outlook and thoughts coming into the regular season, I made a point of pointing out that it was likely that twenty year old Colby Williams would've been the obvious choice for the Regina Pats captaincy. It was all but a foregone conclusion. With Williams suffering a potential season ending injury this has greatly complicated matters for Head Coach and General Manager John Paddock in deciphering the best fit to lead this young hockey club through the gauntlet known as the Regular Season. Williams has been a long serving member of the Pats organization and he has seen the decent times, ie the 2014-2015 campaign, and some tenures that had the supporters of this prestigious franchise very restless but through all the pros and cons, we saw Williams grow as a player which led to is surprise getting selected by the Washington Capitals in the 2015 National Hockey League entry draft. So who's the next lad in line? We will discuss below,

With Colby out of the running and fellow twenty year old Taylor Cooper expected out until at least Christmas, unless the Pats wanted to set a precedent by naming twenty year old goaltender Daniel Wapple the captain which isn't likely, it's  safe to say that a twenty year old will not be leading the charge. Who else has may have the fortitude to confidently take over the captaincy? Three names specifically come to mind. Adam Brooks plight with the organization has been a fascinating one as for whatever reason he wasn't given the playing time to succeed under previous regimes coached by Malcolm Cameron and Pat Conacher but was finally giving tangible opportunity under John Paddock My impression of Brooks the first couple of years was he was a player similar to a player that lives in infamy due to poor play, Dominik Favreau. A good skater, arguably great skater but didn't have the necessary hockey I.Q to be an elite WHL scorer. That all changed under the guidance of Paddock as Brooks was a changed man last season. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native showed a penchant for using his speed for controlling the play and in many ways he made Pavel Padakin, who I thought  was a tremendous fit as one of the two Europeans on the roster last year and seventeen year Austin Wagner better hockey players and I would imagine Wagner has Brooks to thank as Wagner's strong second half was parlayed into a NHL draft selection. Will Brooks get it, maybe, maybe not. He's not my personal choice but is definitely full fledged in the conversation. My choice still to come.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native Connor Hobbs will be looked at as the team leader because of what it took to acquire him from the Medicine Hat Tigers. Hobbs, who was brought in from the aforementioned Tigers for Kyle Burroughs and Dryden Hunt will be looked upon to be the number one defenceman on a very young unit and my thought process for wanting to include him for consideration is that if you're under the presumption that he's here for the next two or three years, why not give him the reigns early and let him run with it? The philosophy is that although we're not sure what kind of  leadership intangible he possesses off the ice but sometimes to keep a top player happy, sticking the "C" on the front of the sweater is the best solution. I hate to label him as a player of this character without fully knowing but the idea has merit as why not make the best player at least on defence take on greater responsibilities. But, like any great lead-on, you'll have to keep reading to find out my ultimate selection for team captain.

Think Connor McDavid and Ryan Murray, two players that were named team captains prior to their National Hockey League draft year. McDavid and Murray, the Erie Otter McDavid in particular was naturally a hyped teen phenomenon long before he arrived in the Ontario Hockey League and it's completely unfair to paint McDavid and Regina Pats "phenom" Sam Steel under the same brush but ths is the kind of world we live in where expectations are generally overblown as they were when Steel entered the league. This is why Paddock would be best advised to throw the captaincy Steel's way....A)entering his sophomore campaign, a lot of players in the past have broken out at the age of seventeen and it's very plausible that Steel could finish the year with the team's most points barring any significant injury B)As I eluded to earlier, the precedent with junior and professional organizations prematurely awarding captaincy to the young up and comers, just look at Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews and Colorado Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog getting named captain at an early age and you'll be able to ascertain that this is becoming an all too common trend and C) it's the goals and aspirations of the franchise that need to be accounted for when making this important decision. John Paddock has gone on record, and this is an issue I've recently brought up on this blog and that is that he's targeting the 2016-2017 season as a year he views as possibly a golden year for the organization. With that in mind, he's under the directive that by that time Sam Steel, Jake Leschyshyn and possibly Dawson Barteaux will have enough to lead the young nucleus to championship glory. If Paddock believes this, which I wholeheartedly believe he does then naming this seventeen year old Steel captain amounts to the correct choice.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

NBC Mediocrity no more

 In the circles of golf, there's only one name that  can crossover non golf fans into passionate observers when it comes to the standard golfing telecast. That man is David Feherty. Feherty combines a knack of producing dry, witty humor with the ability to articulate the thoughts that go through the golfer's mind as he was once a professional golfer himself.  Feherty had been the lead roaming commentator for the CBS golfing coverage for the last eighteen years because I grew up     watching the game on T.V and enjoying the work of the Irishman turned naturalized U.S citizen, I can wholeheartedly say that it was the works of sir Feherty that kept me genuinely captivated in this great game. The CBS golfing crew was always first class, from the work of art that was Feherty, to the greatest moustache on T.V in Gary McCord to the recently retired Peter Oosterhuis with the dream team rounded off with the iconic, monotone voice of Verne Lundquist. When electing to write a piece on what Feherty has meant for golf, I wanted to explore the full gamut, on the course, off the course on what his presence has meant for Irish golf, ie did he influence Rory McIlroy to dedicate himself fully to the game, and finally what does the loss mean for CBS and who can they bring and what they can do to alleviate this ginormous loss and what impact the signing will have on NBC sports who have now inked Feherty.

To truly appreciate David's greatness, we must first reminisce on a highlight that he thwarted us with. The list of iconic Feherty moments are practically endless, but this one stands out to me particularly. My most favourite moment happened just a couple years back in early 2014 at the WGC- Match Play Championships, the last true bracket format event as in 2015 the match play format was altered into a non fan friendly set-up, something I could vent a entire novel on but we'll maybe save that for another day. Anyways the call I was referring to was in the final match featuring Jason Day against the infamous Frenchman Victor Dubuisson. This was an event that was ultimately won by the Australian day but it was some shots hit by Dubuisson in some unthinkable lies that led to memorable calls. To describe the play by play to the best of my abilities although I am no Feherty, their was back to back holes in the match that Dubuisson was dead in the water with Day comfortably set up to make a par on the hole. On the first of two miraculous shots, his ball landed in literally a cactus as the event was being held in Arizona and somehow Dubuisson navigated through the cactus, through the rough to approximately ten feet to which Feherty implored after the miraculous shot, "If I saw Arnold Palmer riding down the walk way, I'd believe it". The shot itself was world class and for that Victor deserves all the credit  but having somebody on the network describe the shot in a comical and yet captivating manner makes the shot go down in golfing lore. Now although that will go down as his memorable call in my humble opinion but their is a plethora of other calls but like I mentioned earlier this goes down as his very best.

Off the course, David Feherty is a pioneer. During his playing days, although he was able to qualify for a Ryder Cup in his day he was very much a golfer in the background unlike the way he's in the spotlight now. Feherty is someone that can draw parallels through superstars in other professional sports through his new(newer) show showcased on the Golf Channel aptly named 'Feherty'. For us Canadians, we've been indulged for the last eighteen or so years in a talk show called  Off the Record hosted  by Michael Landsberg which essentially the premise of the show was to bring on sport celebrities from all walks of life with the idea of discussing hot topic sporting items. This show has sustained moderate success in Canada and throughout the years many American networks have tried to implement a similar guideline, some to success ie Pardon the Interruption, some not so successful such as Around the Horn etc etc. With the show David Feherty pitched to the Golf Channel's attention, and if he wasn't the one who pitched it I apologize for not having my facts straight has differed from a lot of concepts in that it's Feherty with a celebrity not necessarily discussing the world of sports, but just going in detail clamoring to personal life details. I personally find this refreshing because to get extreme opinions on any show, I can tune into my local afternoon sports radio talk show but not often will you have someone sit down with Lee Trevino and get into what he really enjoys about fishing. Refreshing might be an understatement as the level of depthness that he delves into is unprecedented and makes this Golf Channel classic truly iconic. The best way to describe it is listening to someone that has expertise in one particular subject matter, in this case golf, it's a beautiful thing allowing these individuals to ride on completely out of the box tangents.

Commending Feherty as a pioneer to the golfing audience is one thing, but is an impact being made to grow golf in his native land of Ireland. First of all, from what I've been told golfing in Ireland is absolutely tremendous with it being host to some of the world's best courses but aside from that, the "Irish explosion" on the professional golf tours is a fascinating one, and I'd like to hail Feherty as being the presipus for what has happened in that regard. In the last fifteen years, four Irish golfers have predominantly had a great deal of success on the PGA Tour. Padraig Harrington, Graem McDowell, Shane Lowry and of course we can't forget Rory McIlroy! The success of Harrington and McDowell can't be all tied to the presence of Feherty because they were already developmental golfers by the time Feherty became an international phenomenon but in reference to the younger generation in Lowry and McIlroy one can speculate what seeing Feherty on a television screen every Sunday did for their confidence and willingness to take golf up as a past time. I doubt they would ever admit the importance of what he means to Irish golf as they are on the surface very confident individuals but I don't discount for a second what he's meant for these two.

CBS golf losing  David Feherty is comparable to if ABC and ESPN ever lost Jon Gruden for there Monday Night football coverage. Irreplaceable would be the accurate descriptor. As aforementioned in the opening paragraph, the CBS golf team is top notch and was, was being the operative terminology the best in the business. The main competitors of CBS surely had their strong suits as for example Mike Tirico is an excellent play by play man for the ESPN/ABC British Open coverage, the great Roger Maltbie was clearly a knowledgeable commentator for NBC, and FOX....well what we can say about FOX, Joe" I dip my feet into too many sports" Buck doesn't have the golfing background to be successful in this industry thus the golfing coverage which will reportedly be increasing in content will continue to suffer. With Feherty jumping ship over to NBC, the new "dream team" has formed with himself, Roger Maltbie, though we're not certain how many kicks at the can he has left and Johnny Miller will create an eloquent broadcast. Sure, with the opportunity of broadcasting the Olympics too much of an incentive for David to pass up on, but I find it odd that CBS, being the conglomerate they are couldn't of made it financially beneficial for Feherty to stay. NBC's gain is CBS' loss. Who is the next chosen one that CBS will choose as the new leading roaming commentator? I'm going to throw a name out there that will split the golfing community on agreeance, and that's Brandel Chamblee. Chamblee is known for his over the top opinions and constant sometimes unfair criticism to certain player, his consistent outcry towards Tiger Woods swing changes come to the forefront, so due to the boldness that he brings with him on air, I find it appealing and would be a great coup for the CBS golfing coverage. The Jim Nantz/Nick Faldo tower combination is intriguing because first of all Nantz can make anybody look more superior than they really are but also because Nick Faldo has a story telling skill that not many have had before him. Peter Kostis has that unspoken ability to dissect a golf swing while making it interesting for the viewer. Unfortunately, for all they have that's adherable, losing that comedic presence on air will be tough to overcome as it may draw away some of the casual fans that tuned in to listen to the Irishman. Chamblee, the choice I just theorized with doesn't bring the humor element but he will raise the stakes on the controversial game which may draw a different type of audience, because, hey...who didn't like  a little bit of controversy now and again?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

World Junior Geographical Gaffe

Today, U.S.A Hockey shortlisted three destinations to play host to the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships. The selected three finalists are Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and St.Louis. Admittance on this will never materialize but it's really a two way race between Pittsburgh and St.Louis as Buffalo last hosted this prestigious event in 2011 and going back to the same well so soon doesn't seem like a required necessity. Could St.Louis and Pittsburgh be feasible hosts, no questions about it but a missed opportunity transpired when they cut down semi-finalist bid Tampa Bay, Florida. The World Junior championships, for us Canadians is a holiday tradition but unfortunately for those south of the border it doesn't quite carry the same resonation. The tournament unless U.S.A Hockey employs the previously successful tactic of using a location near a Canadian border more times than not is an attendance disaster. For this very reason, I suppose I'm contradicting myself when ruling out Buffalo because back in 2011 that drew a flock of fans from the Ontario border creating a very much home ice advantage for Team Canada. Conversely however, I don't view going  back to the same locale as a  solid tool in growing the game in markets that are in desperate need of gravitation.  Pittsburgh and St.Louis are viewed as cold climates in the winter, particularly Pittsburgh so it's not exactly a winter hot spot when trying to recruit fans out to the area to catch the games live. This leads back to the original hypothesis, why not Tampa Bay?

Tampa Bay over Christmas time? A child's dream if there ever was one. The warm weather, the ridiculously beautiful golf courses are a god send, particularly for us near Regina who do  not reside in a golfing paradise province makes Florida over Christmas an enticing option for most.  In an interview I listened to about a month ago, Bob McCown of the Fan 590, on his show "Prime Time Sports" brought on the chairman of the Tampa Bay bid to discuss feasibility. The outline was clearly laid out as the two rinks planned on being used were within walking distance of one another which for a tourist is absolutely ideal. Secondarily to that, these selections come at a time where the Tampa Bay Lightning have had a great deal of success so I'm confused as to the American hockey federation wasn't looking to capitalize on the momentum by awarding the WJHC to a market starving hockey lately.  What this essentially boils down to is a lack of determination from this federation to invest solid resources in a tournament that they frankly don't give  a flying rat about. Even the most elementary focus groups when discussing tournament pros and cons would've come to a consensus that a Tampa Bay junior tournament is a win-win for all parties involved. A regrettable marketing decision was made which saddens this blogger as a tournament I love in a golf heaven's state would've been right up my alley.

Western Hockey League:Pre-season Awards

The 50th anniversary, 2015-2016 Western Hockey League regular season schedule commences in eight short days, and I thought it would be appropriate to enlist my selections for some WHL awards and I will also provide distinction for some fictional awards on some areas I want to highlight. Enjoy!

Most Valuable Player:Kailer Yamamoto(Spokane Chiefs)

We'll start with the hard and heavy early by awarding this hometown Chief the Most Valuable honour. Conventional wisdom and popular belief would suggest Brayden Point of the Moose Jaw Warriors could be the early season favourite for such a prestigious award but when it comes down to it, as I hopefully clearly illustrated when doing my WHL preview  earlier in the summer, I'm anticipating for the Warriors to struggle massively which impacts Point's point surplus.The Red Deer Rebels have been awarded hosting duties for this years MasterCard Memorial Cup and their's a good chance(we'll leave it at that) that Points ends up in Rebels colors so the sooner he  gets there the quicker he re-engages in M.V.P conversation. Yamamoto is a dynamic seventeen year old who will be the catalyst of the Chiefs offence.Although somewhat similar to Moose Jaw but not quite to the same extreme Yamamoto may be a one trick pony at times as theirs' not  a lot of secondary offence to be sustained. Fifty seven points as  a young sixteen year old serves well going into this sophomore campaign.

Honourable mention to Brayden Point if that wasn't obvious enough already.

Top Defenceman:Nolan Reid(Saskatoon Blades)

Working under the tutelage of Bob Woods and his wealth of National Hockey League experience has done wonders for Reid's development. Reid was the one Blade, who I saw play a handful games last season that consistently stood out for positive reasons. Listed at 5'10, he's an excellent skater and although most covering the league aren't singing the Blades praises I for one see them finishing as high as second place in the Eastern division with the tumultuous Regina Pats injury situation ongoing. and a big  reason for that will  be Nolan Reid. Every year entering season, their's always that one prospect, sometimes two that jumps out and elevates his draft positioning and this year that individual's name is Nolan Reid.  Nolan is a puck moving defenceman that will benefit from a more polished Blades offence this season,

Honourable mention to Aaron Irving of the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Top Goaltender:Jordan Papirny(Brandon Wheat Kings)

A couple of years ago when I was first privy to seeing Papirny live in action and my first take wasn't all that endearing. I saw a goaltender who clearly, it wasn't that hard to  ascertain, was backstopping a near powerhouse but was way too fidgety in net and had to slow down and refine his game. The bad goal, and I harken back specifically to the 2014 Eastern Conference quarterfinal against those Regina Pats and that was that he was prone to allowing the untimely goal. Fast forward a year to the 2014-2015 season, and consistency was the name of Papirny's game.  He no longer had more moving pieces then Jim Furyk's golf swing and the increased stability had ensued. As we enter the 2015-2016 year, I expect more of the same with experiencing a taste of National Hockey League rookie camp(Edmonton Oilers) will only make him more confident on a team that enters the season as the Canadian Hockey League favourite.

Honourable Mention to Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips.

Coach of the year: Bob Woods(Saskatoon Blades)

During the time where I published my league preview, I was high on the Blades then but as the summer progressed my optimism has grown. It took no hockey expert to realize that Woods inherited a mess coming into last season and the quick turnaround pays testament to Woods as a hockey administrator. Development is the most prevalent key when analyzing Woods' abilities as a coach. I just finished speaking highly on Nolan Reid but the laundry basket is full of players that owe a great deal of their expected success to this former member of the Anaheim Ducks organization. Cam Hebig is right up their near the top of the laundry as does Graham. The Blades project to be a better, more exciting group to observe this season and due to this Woods is in line to collect some post-season hardware.

Honourable mention to Steve Konowalchuk of the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Most Improved player:Dmitriy Osipov(Vancouver Giants)

Based on firing away countless credentials Nolan  Reid's way, one would surmise that Reid should fall under this category as well but to avoid duplicate praise, I will profile my next best choice. Osipov who came to the Giants as a very high import selection back in 2013 hasn't yet lived up to the expectations that General Manager Bonnner probably would've hoped for. Lorne Molleken is now the Head Coach in Vancouver and I personally will suggest that this hiring is tremendous for his development.  Molleken got an abysmal rap in Saskatoon but I think most of that was in part due to his questionable acquisitions as a a General Manager. We have to differentiate Molleken the coach and Molleken the General Manager. Molleken the coach has oodles of experience and background to pull from because I'm here to tell you, and I can already imagine the expletives that some Giant fans are internally muttering because they may view Osipov as a lost cause and although I will admit he may never amount into an offensive dynamo, that combination of shot and size will make him a valuable commodity for the G-men this season.

Top Rookie:Jantzen Leslie(Everett Silvertips)

To identify the rookie of the year award in the pre-season is about as hard as it is for Tiger Woods to find the fairway these days, So much subjectivity comes into the woodwork...Will player X be seeing top line minutes.......Power-play time? .....Club goals coming into the season? Leslie seems to be the best bet this season for a team that probably dreamed they were going to land higher profile rookies like Auston Matthews and Tyson Jost but settling for Leslie is no consolation prize for the Tips. At 6'1, 170, this sixteen year old possesses more of a shut down frame but fans in the state of  Washington will be pleasantly surprised for what offence Jantzen will bring to the table. I don't necessarily expect great things for the Silvertips as a whole and for that very reason their's no excuse for why he can't flourish.

Honourable mention to Michael Rasmussen of the Tri-City Americans.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Knuckle Ball:Volume Five

In the fifth edition in the critically acclaimed "Knuckle Ball" segment, I will analyze three items in the world of baseball that I decipher need discussing.  At one point this summer I made the ascertation that I would eat crow if the Minnesota Twins stay in the playoff race or do the unthinkable and actually make the post-season dance. This playoff push has been a unexpected one for the fine folks of St.Paul, but the point of interest that deserves to be explored is whether fan favourite Joe Mauer is actually bringing the team down in the midst of this run. Second, I give my opinion on who deserves to start the opening game for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League divisional series, Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke. To finish off the slate, although some may vehemently disagree with this I will look to theorize why I'm of the belief that Houston Astros manager A.J Hinch has gone from quite possibly being considered the favourite to win the American League Manager of the year to being on the hot seat a little less than a month later.

Joe Mauer was to Minnesota baseball as to what fictional Gordon Bombay was to Minnesota hockey. Without living in the market and using the power of social media to come to this conclusion, Mauer's fandom has surpassed that of the early 90's superstar, the late great Twin Kirby Puckett. For years, it was the Mauer and Morneau show in Minny, I believe affectionately known as the M & M. Chronic injuries to the Canadian Morneau led to his sudden dismissal from Vikings county(cmon,got to throw some NFL into the mix). Since then, Mauer has taken complete control of the leadership dynamic, off the field anyways as on the field his production has tapered off. I think the issue I have with Mauer is the mis-management for how he is used. Courtesy of baseball-reference.com, I was able to bring up the statistics for this Minnesota native and it's clear, him hitting in the third hole is counterintuitive. Throughout his eleven year career he has totaled one hundred and seventeen homeruns and twenty eight of those came in the same year. Mauer is the prototypical on base guy, but event that has decreased over the last two seasons. As reported in the opening, Minnesota has defied even my greater expectations and full credit goes out to former Toronto Blue Jay and current Twin manager Paul Molitor. He's restructured the mindset of this franchise and for that they're in the thick of the wildcard race. I can continue to throw compliments Molitor, but getting back to the subject at hand, I would like to see Molitor alter Mauer's role in the lineup. The Toronto Blue Jays for a  long time were using newly acquired shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in the lead-off and Tulowitzki doesn't possess top of the lineup speed and nor does Mauer. Mauer can get on base and allow the likes of Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier to set the table immaculately for slugger Miguel Sano. This philosophy has begun to gravitate towards the popularity spectrum as more and more teams are focusing on instilling a lead-off hitter who excels with getting on base, not necessarily stealing bases. Get with the times Twins!


Kershaw or Greinke? Greinke or Kershaw? The rotation order will be long debated in Southern California.Truth be told, there isn't a wrong answer, but I'm going to down a certain angle that will lead to only one answer. The fact of the matter is in sports, what would you rather have, a scape goat who's contractually tied to your team long term who a bad loss could potentially rupture the player-fan relationship for years(Kershaw) or somebody you could throw to the wolves if things go awry who's out of a contract after this 2015 campaign(Greinke)? The only answer is starting Greinke in a game one/deciding game scenario because their's too much on the line that could so, so wrong if Kershaw were to start and fail. I'm certain this theory will aggravate most of everybody, particularly die-hard Dodgers fans but I'm okay with this because I'm not one to back down from a strong(crazy) opinion. Dodgers have already talked about making a change managerially if things finish on a negative note thus losing the N.L.D.S(hello Ozzie Guillen???) and what the team needs more than anything is a confident, committed Kershaw going forward. It seems ridiculous to worry about next year in a midst of being in World  Series contention but such is the life of Major League Baseball executive.

Remember Robbie Ftorek? You probably don't, but to refresh the memories of the general observers Robbie Ftorek was the New Jersey  Devils head coach heading into the 1999-2000 season but then was abruptly fired on March 23,2000. I know all about termination but I'm sure in Ftorek's case he wasn't terminated in large part for using "too complex of vocabulary" when sending out e-mails to government corporations(apparently the word aforementioned was too intimidating for my ex-manager). Some company I worked for! Anyways, getting back to Ftorek, after he was let go on that unfortunate March 23rd day, assistant coach Larry Robinson was promoted for the playoff bound team and they went on to win the Stanley Cup. This kind of story is a rare commodity so I wouldn't expect it to be effective but for Houston Astros Manager A.J Hinch, one may proclaim a drastic change is in order? The Houston Astros as of this writing(September 15th,2015) have lost their stake of the American League West lead after carrying it since July 26th. This is a tricky one to decipher because the Astros had zero expectations coming in but now they're here, do they just let status quo overtake everything they've built up or do they try to take advantage of an unprecedented season and make a bold managerial move. I'd be kidding myself if I thought a move such as that was actually going to happen but for fans in Houston, it's time to man up or shut up as the season is falling apart quicker then Tiger Woods' golf game so we shall see if Astros organization has the same level of guts as the New Jersey Devils did.

How NOT to win your Fantasy Hockey League!

I completely kid of course as my information that  I disperse out is completely trustworthy and is a reputable resource when differentiating the players you should target in your upcoming Fantasy Hockey draft. What I'm going to do is basically list five players that would be considered "sleepers" by the majority of hockey pendants and five players I would stay away from as a decrease in productivity is likely


1.T.J Brodie, Defenceman-Calgary Flames- A little earlier this summer, I advocated the Calgary Flames as one of the top teams coming into this season in my National League Preview. Brodie himself saw a +27 point production increase from 2012-2013 to 2013-2014  and a +10 increase into the 2014-2015 season.  The reason the selection of Brodie entices me is because with an expected Marc Giordano and a newly acquired Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins, the widely believed speculation is that Brodie won' t be scouted as heavily from the opposition and can't because of the individual threats that exist in the aforementioned Giordano and Hamilton. Sometimes, the common opinion is that just because you don't see ice time on the first power play unit correlates that you won't get primo scoring opportunities but the reality(at least the blurred reality in my head) is that hiding behind PP1 onto PP2 will allow the avoidance of the oppositions top penalty killers. Brodie is a good play for all drafts, try to shoot for him in the middle rounds.

2.Jack Eichel, Forward-Buffalo Sabres- As has been mentioned thousands of times and something Jack has grown tire of is the comparison that will fall on Eichel's shoulders his entire career and that's with the 2015 NHL draft rival Connor McDavid. McDavid landed in a great situation with the Oilers as he will patrol the first line but what people fail to realize is that Eichel landed in arguably  a better situation in Buffalo. Tim Murray did a masterful job last season tearing down the dead weight in an effort of landing McDavid or Eichel and it worked as he landed the top American on the board. Eichel, similarly to McDavid will likely see time on the top line and could be paired with running mate and former Medicine Hat Tiger Tyler Ennis.  I could've and strongly considered including Ennis on the sleeper list but when it comes to the Sabres this team will ride or die on the back of Jack.  Ninety point season I can see in the cards. He's first round material in all drafts.

3.Mike Green,Defenceman-Detroit Red Wings- I struggled with the question, " Can Mike Green really be considered a sleeper?". Mike Green was a fantasy phenomenon four to five years ago suiting up for the Washington Capitals but some on ice struggles led to the apparent inevitability that a change of scenery was necessary.  The issue that begun to arise in Washington was that upfront we saw too many players that played a selfish style which didn't correlate with moving around the puck  efficiently which stung Green's statistics as on the surface he carried a pass first mindset. We're not quite sure the style new coach in Detroit Jeff Blaishill will enforce but what we do know is that he'll get more tangible power play time playing alongside team first players in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Nabbing Green in the fourth to fifth round would be advised.

4.Nikolay Kulemin,Forward-New York Islanders- Kulemin was someone that if I were writing this same fantasy preview a year ago I would've targeted as a sleeper back then but fast forward a year and I just suffice that he has so much more in the tank to deliver. Only accumulating thirty-one points last season I unequivocally believe he has the potential to surpass sixty this season. In the playoff series against the Washington Capitals, he started the series on the fourth line but by the end of it coach Jack Capuano instilled more confidence in the Russian and he started to flourish. By including him on this list the expectation is that he'll carry forward that confidence throughout the regular season.

5.Nathan MacKinnon,Forward-Colorado Avalanche- That overused classification of the "Sophomore Slump" can fittingly describe MacKinnon's campaign a year ago. What I saw in this individual a year ago, and it didn't take a genius to notice this but I am one so no harm, no foul and that is that he was pressing waaaayyyy too hard. MacKinnon dominated the 2013 Memorial Cup in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and what we saw their was a player that had through the roof confidence and internally felt that he could do no wrong. His speed will naturally create chances on it's own and their's NO way he resorts to another below fifty point season. I feel so strongly about MacKinnon rebounding that I would look for him late in the first round.

" Stay away from"

1.Tyler Johnson,Forward-Tampa Bay Lightning- This is a classic case of Brady Anderson syndrome. If you're not familiar with the story of Brady Anderson, Anderson was a member of the Baltimore Orioles and up until 1996, his yearly home run average hovered in the high teens only to explode for 50 in 1996 only to subsequently fall back to normalcy in 1997. Everything Johnson touched last season turned into magic and even the biggest Johnson/Lightning fan can't expect replication. He does seem to relate to the type of player that succeeds now a days having a Martin St.Louis-esque build but with Steven Stamkos in a contract  year, and this is important that the Lightning will do everything to accommodate the former Sarnia Sting's well  being even if that means cutting into the playing time of Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. The pressure will be on you to select this Spokane,  Washington native high but I'm here to tell you to resist the urge.

2.Phil Kessel,Forward-Pittsburgh  Penguins- The indefinite reason for classifying Kessel as "do not touch" harkens to an entitlement issue. Kessel has always been the guy for every professional team he has suited up for and making the shift to the Pittsburgh Penguins will require him to transition into a secondary scorer, something I'm not sure Phil can resign himself to. He had a disappointing campaign a year ago only tallying only sixty one points but in fairness to Phil he was along side a bunch of ECHL wannabes otherwise known as the Toronto Maple Leafs. To summarize, I just don't think "Phil the Thrill" will adapt as easy as some closer to the precedings then I am think he will. The Pittsburgh Penguins are perennial Stanley Cup contenders, but don't think the contributors will be as cut and dry as you may believe.

3.Jason Spezza,Forward-Dallas Stars- Don't mistaken this for how I view the Dallas Stars as a whole because how I feel about Spezza's outlook and how I feel about the Dallas Stars organization are two different entities. This is no indictment on the former Ottawa Senators captain as I just don't buy that a Lindy Ruff coached team is adherable to prolonged fantasy success. The game has changed and so have Ruff's tactics but Lindy's penchant in years past has been to focus on the defensive angle first which does no favours for Jason. Secondarily to this concern, a lot of times last year Spezza didn't see the ice with premier players Tyler  Seguin and Jamie Benn so playing on a team that is very top heavy upfront will unfairly penalize Spezza's fantasy projections.

4.Derek Stepan,Forward-New York Rangers- I will never forget the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships in which Stepan led the way for the Americans if for no other reason than it was held in my home province. It was the Derek Stepan v Jordan Eberle show the entire way and in typical Pierre McGuire fashion, the over fascination pertaining to Stepan's game was received with the realization that it was "Pierre being Pierre". The backstory behind Derek Stepan is that he's always been a great leader off the ice, heralded as a future New York Ranger captain which I can cosign, but the leadership quality off the ice can often overvalue a players contributions on the ice,think Jonathan Toews. With the likes of Rick Nash right in the prime stage of his career and youngsters like J.T Miller and one of my favourites Chris Kreider already surpassing his offensive contributions, the intangibles may remain but his offensive prowess will begin to decline.

5.Michael Stone,Defenceman-Arizona Coyotes- Having went down to Glendale last Christmas I was extremely impressed with the reliable play of Michael Stone. Even going back to his days with the Calgary Hitmen, he's always been lauded for his renowned shot but what impressed me even more was the fortitude killing penalties as staunch skating abilities and the surname Stone never went hand in hand. What worries me now about Stone is two fold, for starters Arizona projects to be an atrocious team and if your league utilizes the plus/minus category, it's a death trap. Second, with the acquisition that brought in Stefan Elliot and the late season emergence of Connor Murphy may squeeze out playing time from Stone. I'm confident that Stone has the capabilities of being a NHL top four defenceman but with where the depth currently lies, that may have to be explored in a different market. Too much uncertainty doesn't make Stone a worthwhile fantasy selection.