Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My NSCC Haul!

OK. So I didn't actually go to the National Sports Collectors Convention. It was in Cleveland. I've been to Cleveland twice and I think I've hit about all I need to see (except for the “Christmas Story house”. Besides, next year's NSCC is back here in Chicago and if I put in my request for days off now, I should be able to go (unless I'm paddling a kayak through some remote waterway like I was the last time it was in the Windy City).

However, I was so jealous of everyone posting their loot from the NSCC that I went online and bought some cards. A healthy PayPal account and a couple of hours to spare led me to pick up 17 new cards from COMC.com. For roughly the price of a blaster I added 17 cards to my shoeboxes. Here, presented with commentary are those 17 newest cards.


2011 Topps Finest Refractor Rookie Autographs Zach Britton



It's an Oriole. It's shiny. It has an on-card autograph. Winner Winner Winner. Britton has taken over as the closer for the first place O's and not doing a bad job of it. Say what you will about the O's front office, but they saved themselves some money by letting Jim Johnson ($10 million) walk and finding a way out of the Grant Balfour ($4 million) contract.

Instead they installed former starting rotation savior Britton in the closer role and he's thrived. He's converted 24 saves while striking out 51 batters in 58 2/3 innings. All for the low, low sum of $522,000. Which once again proves that teams that spend more than $4 million on a closer are insane.

2008 Topps Sterling Eddie Murray



One for the personal collection. For some reason I never know what to make of these Sterling cards. I like the fact that they frame the action, but the serial numbering seems excessive. Is there any reason to only make 250 of these cards? Other than artificially driving up the value of course.

2012 Topps Heritage Dee Gordon



I have a deal with myself. Anytime I buy cards on COMC I have to knock at least one card off of my “Wanted” list. I'm pretty sure that I had this Gordon card at one point and then traded it away because I am bad at keeping track of things. Oh well.

2010 Bowman Platinum Jake Arrieta



I've been in Wrigley for two of Arrieta's starts this year. Both times he's taken a no-hitter past the 5th inning. I've never been to a professional game where a no-hitter has been pitched. Much like knocking down a hole-in-one,I would like to attend a no-hitter before I die. I should put together a sports-related bucket lists of things I'd like to see that are out of my control. I'd also like to catch a foul ball, just once. My niece is five and she already has a foul ball. Life isn't fair.

2012 Topps Heritage Aroldis Chapman



He throws really, really hard. I like the fact that there is someone who just brings the heat. I also like the fact that he doesn't have any wins this year. If you're a closer you should either get the save or the loss. When I see a closer that has 5 or 6 wins I think, “He's probably blown a lot of leads only to get bailed out by his offense in the bottom of the inning.” That's not cool. Don't be a wins poacher.

2013 Bowman Dylan Bundy



The price was right for a rookie card of the O's best prospect. I'm glad that they made it through the deadline without parting with any of the big three young pitchers in the organization. While the pressure to make a big deal to WIN NOW there is something to be said for holding on to your prospects. Especially pitching prospects since projecting their success is pretty much a crap shoot. Bundy is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and it isn't unreasonable to think he might make it back to the majors in time to help the O's in September.

2012 Topps Chrome Wei-Yen Chen



If I was to tell you Chen is 12-4 this year would you believe me? No, you would probably go look it up and say, “huh – how about that”. On a staff without a true ace Chen is at least the most consistent of the starters. He goes out there every start and gives the O's about 6 innings of solid work. He doesn't dazzle nor does he get knocked around. He's only had one start where he's gone less than 5 innings (June 28th against the Rays) and has only one start where he's gone eight innings.

2013 Topps Manufactured Rookie Card Patch Eddie Murray



Card number two for the personal collection. Normally I'm not a fan of the manufactured patch card, but at least it's not a fake jersey letter. I kind of like the reprint of the rookie card on a cloth background. I also like any card that says “Congratulations” on the back. Thanks for the inspiration Topps!

2008 Razor Signature Series Bobby Bundy



And Justin G. goes WAY off the board for this pickup. Honestly, at this point I was just looking for an on-card autograph at a reasonable price. The older of the Bundy brothers, Bobby is also working his way back from elbow surgery. After showing some success in the A level, Bundy has struggled a bit over the last few years. If he can work his way back from the elbow issue, maybe he can find a spot in the organization as bullpen arm.

2009 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects Chris Tillman



I guess Tillman is the “ace” of the staff. Or at least the number one starter. Well, he was the opening day starter. It's kind of weird to think that he is only 26 years old. Oriole fans have been on the phenom/bust/phenom/bust roller coaster with him for what seems like a decade.

He has nine wins on the year which is boosted slightly by the 4.76 average in run support he gets during his starts. Come stretch run/playoff time he's going to have to turn it up a notch as he won't be seeing that type of support against quality teams.

2014 Bowman Blue Kevin Gausman
2014 Topps Kevin Gausman
2013 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects Blue Refractor Kevin Gausman
2013 Topps Finest Refractor Kevin Gausman






Yeah, I kind of went on a Gausman run there didn't I? When I went back to Baltimore this summer for a wedding (Congrats Little Cuz!) it was in the midst of the Jeff Samardzija trade talks. It kind of surprised me that the popular consensus in the Charm City was that if the O's were going to pull off the trade it would be better to ship Dylan Bundy to Chicago instead of Gausman. Now granted some of that could have been due to the “what have you done for me lately” syndrome. With Bundy on the shelf and Gausman contributing it would be easy to forget that Bundy is the top-rated prospect.

Luckily, Oakland went all in for the Shark and O's fans can look forward to a future rotation with both Gausman and Bundy starting. It'll be interesting to see how much Gausman pitches down the stretch. He has been bounced back and forth between Norfolk and Baltimore quite a bit (12 starts in the majors and 11 in AAA) and is at about 112 innings pitched between the two. In 2013 he threw about 129 innings.

In spring training it looked like he would have an innings cap around170 innings, but since his last call up it seems like Buck Sholwalter might be removing that limit. I could see him moving to the bullpen once Miguel Gonzalez is recalled from the minors. Granted, I would rather see Ubaldo Jimenez sitting out beyond center field eating sunflower seeds, but you don't pay someone $11 million to pitch in blowouts.

2000 Skybox Matt Riley



Speaking about blowouts. Hey it's former prospect Matt Riley! I bought this card more because of the photo than of the player (Motion Blur-Jo!). The former 3rd round pick was a hard-throwing, left-handed prospect during the lean years for the Orioles at the turn of the century. He lasted parts of three seasons before injuries and a lack of discipline derailed his chances of being the next Brad Pennington.

He was shipped to Texas for the legend that was Ramon Nivar (one career RBI for the O's) and then quietly faded away. Not before I stocked up on a few of his rookie cards, though.

2008 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Jake Arrieta



Another early card of the Cubs current ace. Arrieta was the opening day starter for the O's in 2012. By 2013 he was on the Cubs. The 2013 opening day starter for the O's was Jason Hammel. By 2014 he was on the Cubs. The 2014 opening day starter for the O's was Chris Tillman. Will he keep the streak going?

2013 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Chrome Draft Picks Hunter Harvey



The last card in the bunch has the longest set name in the history of baseball cards. Also, in keeping with the Justin G. curse the day I selected this card, Harvey was shut down for the season with an elbow injury.

Seventeen cards at an average of $1.44 per card. The most expensive card was the Britton and the least expensive was the Dylan Bundy Bowman. The card I feel like I overpaid the most for was the Matt Riley. The card that looks better in person than online was the Britton. The best value I thin was the Gausman Finest refractor.






Friday, July 25, 2014

Opposite Ends of the Hype Line - Gennedy Golovkin and Mike Lee Both Fight This Weekend

It's a pretty good boxing weekend for one that doesn't include anyone named Mayweather or Pacquiao. Well, good enough for me to shake the dust of the keyboard and bang out some words about it. First up on Friday night, ESPN returns to the Windy City and features quasi-local boy Mike Lee. Sadly I do not have tickets or a press pass to attend. Then on Saturday, Gennedy Golovkin headlines a HBO Pay-Per-View in Madison Square Garden where he looks to add another victim to his hit list.

We'll begin with Golovkin, because he is the most interesting fighter on the list. Born in Kazakhstan, lives in Germany but training in Big Bear, California Golovkin has ascended rapidly up the “must watch” fighters list over the last two years. During that time (which coincided with his United States debut – a blistering TKO victory over Gregorz Proksa) he has gained a reputation, spearheaded by HBO Boxing, as the “Most Dangerous Man” in boxing.

It's easy to like a fighter who finishes off his opponents and Golovkin's string of 16 straight knockouts makes him as easy to like as apple pie on Thanksgiving. He can hit with both hands, throws power punches at will, has the agility and balance that rarely leaves him off balance all while commanding the ring like it's his personal dance space.

He's drawn a lot of comparisons to a young Mike Tyson (maybe we should call him Kazakh Dynamite much like Tyson was Kid Dynamite) for his power and the way opponents are starting to shy away from him. Of course, no one is flat out admitting that they won't fight him, but no one of note seems to be in a hurry to sign the dotted line for a fight.

Not only does he dole out his fair share of punishment, but he's not going to be confused with Winky Wright anytime soon when it comes to defense. He gets hit from time to time, enough so that you begin to wonder if this might be the time he pays the price for keeping his hands down.

I can imagine his opponents thinking, “Hey I just rocked him with a straight right. I can do this” right before they wake up staring at the bright lights and a mustachioed man in a blue shirt waving his arms over his head.

Maybe it's his love of cardigans or huge smile whenever he's being interviewed, but no one scheduled to face him is ever thinks that they're going to fall victim to his fistic bombarment. Granted no one on the professional level is ever going to admit that they're scared of getting hit by their opponent, but some of his victims have been extremely boastful prior to stepping in the ring.

Gabriel Rosado: “I'm gonna smash him”



Curtis Stevens: “I'm coming there ready. I'm not scared, obviously, because I asked for the fight.”



Osumanu Adama: “The difference with me is that I'm not scared of Golovkin”



The point being, you might not fear him going into the fight, but chances are your thoughts will change once your back is on the canvas and the overhead lights are swimming in your eyes.

For boxing fans, enjoy Golovkin for where he is at now in his career. He is getting popular, but he is not at the over-saturation point yet. Sure, there are folks on the internet who say he's overrated, but that's the cynical internet where God himself could come down, heal the sick and lame, end warfare and someone would write, “Ehhh. That's nothing, Buddha would mop the floor with that guy.

Nor has Golovkin risen to the point where he's become the pick and choose, fight two times a year superstar boxer. Remember how much fun it was to look forward to Manny Pacquiao's fights when he was laying waste to his opponents? When he was ripping up De La Hoya and Rickey Hatton? Those were fun days, before the “When Will He Fight Mayweather” talk really escalated or he got mired down by Timothy Bradley.

That's were we're at with Golovkin. His future fights aren't more important than his present fights. Who care's if he'll fight Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. or Saul Alvarez. All we want him to do is bust up Daniel Geale like a birthday pinata.

I agree that he hasn't fought the best fighters yet, but in this business you still have to work your way up the ladder. He's beating, straight up stole-his-money beating, everyone that enters the ring with him. So enjoy that now. Because it's going to change. It always changes.

I don't know much about his opponent, Daniel Geale. He was born in Tasmania (awesome) and lives in Australia (still awesome) and held both the IBF and WBA super-middleweight titles. His two losses were split decisions that were somewhat controversial and he's beat Felix Strum on points in Germany. Which is like beating Floyd Mayweather on points in Las Vegas. It just doesn't happen.

He seems like a nice fighter. Fairly competent on defense as he has never been knocked out and hasn't been down in a round since 2008. Of course, looking at his list of opponents, none of them has had the power of Golovkin. He is the requisite feel-good underdog. Unlike most fighters, he doesn't seclude himself in a remote fortress when he trains for fights, rather he stays at home with his family. He has even dedicated this fight to his mother who is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma. And against almost anyone other than Golovkin I would be rooting for him.

Like those who stumbled to the mat before him, Geale isn't afraid of Golovkin. Of course, he can't allow himself to be. Or else the fight is already lost. Geale has to believe that he is different than everyone else who has fought Golovkin. That his defense is tighter. That if gets inside he can do serious damage where others have just annoyed the happy go lucky Kazakh.

Does he have a chance to win? Sure, I'm sure his trainer has developed a plan for him. Maybe not a knockout plan, but a “keep it close on the cards an squeak out a win” plan. Of course, even the best laid plans tend to go awry once a thudding left hook lands on your liver. That's when we'll see what Geale is really made of.



I've never had much good to say about Mike Lee. If I'd listened to my mother then I would never have anything to say about him. I'm sure Mike Lee is a good guy, I'm sure he works with charities and is nice to his mother. For some reason he just rubs me the wrong way – much like Lukas when he played for Liverpool.

Maybe I'm finding out that I have a bias against fighters who've graduated college. Especially fighters who went to Notre Dame. Or the fact that despite being from the area he's only fought in Chicago once (his pro debut). It's probably the Subway deal. You know the one. There are actual recognizable athletes saying how much they like Subway sandwiches and then there is the guy with boxing gloves around his neck.

Imagine if Subway had, instead of Ryan Howard, chosen Jesse Biddle to pimp their Sweet Onion Teriyaki subs. Sure, Biddle might be a star at one point, but right now he's just some face in the crowd. Boxing deserves more than that for one of the few commercials that has a national spotlight.

Despite my dislike of the fighter he is setting himself up for a nice little comeback story. The golden (domer) kid who has a nice contract with Top Rank boxing and a little money coming in from endorsements without really having accomplished in the ring was kind of riding the top of the wave.

Then it came crashing down. A couple of bulging disks in his back and some jaw issues sidelined him for almost two years. His contract with Top Rank expired and wasn't renewed. He left his Texas-based trainer, Ronnie Shields, and signed up with former heavyweight contender Chris Byrd. He TKO'd undefeated Peter Lewison in April and will look to do the same on Friday to Paul Gonsalves.

Those two fighters have a combined record of 13 and 3. In the previous 11 fights his opponents were 39 and 51. So he is stepping up his competition. Hopefully he steps up his work rate as well. He needs to be working regularly to make up for the missing years and for a relatively empty amateur career as well. If he does, then maybe he replaces Mike Jimenez at the top of my Best Chicago Fighters list.



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Yzerman Fills in the Missing Pieces

When I go grocery shopping I wander the aisles putting things in my basket until I have what I need. Often I have to double back to pick up things I forgot to get the first time around.  When my wife goes shopping she has a list. She hits everything on that list in order with no wasted time looking at ice cream and wondering when they stopped making Pudding Pops. When it comes to free agency I'm like the Washington Capitals grabbing overpriced items at the checkout line.  Steve Yzerman is my wife.

It makes me smile to think that he woke up a couple of days ago, grabbed a pen and his “Things to Do” stationary and went to town.  He probably had himself a nice little Saturday.  After yesterday’s frenzy it probably looked a little something like this:

Big Steve’s To Do List

Draft a talented but troubled teenager - Anthony DeAngelo - check
Pick up a defenseman on the cheap - Jason Garrison - check
Clear up some cap space - Teddy Purell, BJ Crombeen, Nate Thompson - check
Chuckle at the thought of beat writers and bloggers not getting enough sleep - check
Drink one Heineken (Because Kid Rock rhymed it with my name in a song) - check
Wait for desperate GM’s to throw crazy money around in the first few hours of free ageny - check
Sign solid defenseman to a reasonable contract - Anton Stralman - check
Call Ecklund on a burner cell phone and say that “sources” tell me Yzerman is offing $49 million to Matt Niskanen - check
Chuckle - check
Replace rugged 4th line center that I traded the other day - Brian Boyle - check
Sign veteran back up goalie in case #1 goalie gets hurt a week before the playoffs (again) - Evgeni Nabokov - check
Throw a bone to Syracuse after raiding their team last season - Mike Blunden Mike Angelidis - check
Figure out a way to turn all my 2015 picks into Connor McDavid - pending

This is the upside of having a cold, calculating general manager running the organization.  He eschews the drama and gets things done.  Sure you have to deal with him passionately trading away or buying out fan favorites, but it’s worth it when he pulls off days like July 1st.

Once he started clearing space with his pre-July 1 trades, speculation that the Lightning would be major players in free agency started to mount.  Odd, since historically Mr. Yzerman didn’t dip too much into the market.  In the past he tended to target one or two players that weren’t among the top targets and then go about his day.

We hear about teams having multi-year plans all the time.  Every time a new general manager or coach takes over a struggling team we hear about a new “three year” or “five year” plan.  Most of the times those plans fizzle or the GM or coach gets axed before seeing it to fruition.  Mr. Yzerman has managed to actually build it as he wants to.

He came into a mess of an organization and immediately started stockpiling assets whether they were draft picks or young players.  The surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year masked some deficiencies, most notably depth in the defense and goaltending. When Dewayne Roloson reverted back to a 98-year-old goalie the next season, the team struggled.

However, Mr. Yzerman didn’t waiver. Digging into his vault of draft picks and young forwards he brought in a couple of young goaltenders with promise.  While Anders Lindback didn’t pan out, he looks like he has a future all-star in Ben Bishop.  Meanwhile he kept getting rid of salary while not over committing to long term deals with veterans.

Last season, saw the influx of young prospects into the lineup.  They played well, enjoyed some good luck along the way and found themselves in the playoffs.  Montreal managed to expose some of the weaknesses that lingered on defense and in net, but the core of the future was established.  Now, Mr. Yzerman just had to add the missing pieces.

With a ton of cap space and the important parts of the team already under contract  (top six forwards, goaltender and top defense pairing) he could pick and choose what he needed this year to not only get back to the playoffs, but also be a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.

Anton Stralman is the biggest piece of the puzzle that Mr, Yzerman acquired. He is the veteran (394 NHL games) steady presence that the team lacked last season. According to the scouting reports he won’t rack up the points, but he is good at getting the puck out of the zone. One thing that I’ve read over and over is that he is a “darling of the fancy-stats crowd”.  Which, to me, boils down to - he does great things in terms of puck possession. The basic tenant from the #fancystats crowd is that good things happen when you have possession of the puck.

With Stralman and Garrison in the fold the Lightning shouldn’t be booking flights out of  Syracuse to patch holes in the blue line during the season. Andrej Sustr will probably spend most of the season in New York where he will get to develop his professional game.  Radko Gudas and Mark Barberio will see their minutes reduced, which isn’t a bad thing for players in their second NHL season.

With seven healthy defensemen under contract (and Sustr soon to be re-signed) Mr. Yzerman also has the flexibility to cut someone loose.  The number one contender to be moved would be Eric Brewer. A team looking to add some depth in defense might be willing to take on his cap hit in exchange for a draft pick or two.  With Stralman eating up his minutes Brewer’s place in the line up is a little shaky.

Evgeni Nabokov is not the player he was five years ago, he’s also not commanding as much money as he was five years ago.  He is someone, however, that should be able to play 20 games a year (or more if needed) and not completely disgrace himself.  The Lightning were burned badly by not having someone ready to step in to back up Bishop last year. Nabokov fills that role without affecting the future prospects they have in the pipeline (and yes I’m avoiding looking up how to spell their names).

Brian Boyle is a nice signing.  He adds some size, but seems to do the same things that Nate Thompson did - win faceoffs and forecheck.  I would have liked to see Dominic Moore come back to the team to fill the role, but the Rangers had to re-sign at least one of their free agents.

The overall theme of the Lightning’s actions off-season revolve around goal prevention.  They didn’t add a lot of offense, in fact they sacrificed some in letting BJ Crombeen Teddy Purcell go.  I’m sure they are planning on Purcell’s production being replaced by having a full season of Steven Stamkos in the line up as well as adding Jonathan Drouin to the team.

It’s pure folly to judge how a team did in free agency before anyone has laced up the skates. However, if you’re a fan of the Lightning you should be encouraged on the moves that they made. None of the other teams in their division really strengthened their teams on the first day of free agency.  Granted Boston didn’t really need to add too much, but Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Detroit mostly held serve.  Buffalo and Florida made a lot of noise, but nothing that would make them a serious contender next season.

There is going to be some pressure on the Lightning to succeed for the first time in a couple of seasons.  Simply making the playoffs isn’t the goal any longer, now they are expected to go deep into the post season.  At first blush the team Mr. Yzerman has assembled is built to do just that.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Steve Yzerman Opens Up For Free Agency Frenzy

With just a couple of phone calls General Manager Steve Yzerman managed to wash away the one solid trade Brian Lawton made for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Catching the league (and fans) unawares, Mr. Yzerman traded pass-happy forward Teddy Purcell to the Edmonton Oilers for Sam Gagner. He then flipped Gagner to the Arizona Coyotes (that's gonna take awhile to feel right) along with BJ Crombeen for a 6th round pick in 2015. For dessert he then traded everyone's favorite Alaskan Nate Thompson to the Anaheim Ducks for two more draft picks in 2015 (4th and 7th round).

The rapid succession of moves made clear a few things:

A: Steve Yzerman cares not for your deadlines or your sleep.
B. The Lightning scouting department will be working overtime this season.
C. Mr. Yzerman cleared over $6 million in cap space and the team is poised to be a big player once the July 1st Free Agent debacle begins.
D. Or not.

Lets not kid ourselves. This year's free agent market isn't exactly overflowing with sexy names. I don't see Mr. Yzerman clearing cap room to bring in Jarome Iginla or Martin Havlat. And Paul Stastny, while the marquee name on the list, doesn't exactly address a need for the team right now. That's not saying the general manager won't sign someone (after all he didn't tip his hand with the Valterri Filppula signing last year), it's not likely that all of the cap room will be spent on July 1st.

I also don't foresee any 2004 Stanley Cup reunion tours in the near future. Brad Richards, Dan Boyle, Nik Khabibulin, and Corey Sarich are all free agents while Philly is supposedly shopping Vincent Lecavalier. As big of a fan of nostalgia as I am, I don't see any of those players skating in Tampa anytime soon.

Most likely the team with use the space to fill in depth on the bottom two lines. So I wouldn't be surprised to see them sign a player along the lines of Dominic Moore or Marcel Goc. Heck, Steve Downie is out there and affordable. If we're talking reunions why not bring back The Little Ball of Fury?


Luckily free agency isn't the only route open. The Lightning have cap room and extra draft picks to deal. That makes them very enticing trade partners for some teams that might find themselves hamstrung by a $69 million salary cap. For instance. with only about $700,000 in wiggle room and his two stars contemplating $10 million a year contracts perhaps Stan Bowman might be willing to listen on an offer for Nick Hjalmarsson and his $4.1 million cap hit.

The Flyers gave Andrew McDonald lots and lots of money this off-season. As of yet they haven't been able to trade him to Columbus quite yet (as they do with most of their other failed investments) so they're feeling the cap squeeze. Would Luke Schenn make the Lightning better on the blue-line? I doubt it would make it worse.

Of course, all talks of trades are based on various players waiving their no-trade clauses, but if you're a player being shopped wouldn't Tampa be an intriguing destination? Never mind the “no state income tax” hoopla. I'm talking about joining a team that is legitimately poised to be a serious contender for the next few years. Already there have been a few “hey the Lightning are going to be really, really good” stories pop up among the national media, confirming what we've already realized. When compared to other organizations Tampa is becoming a desired destination.

Let's not forget one lingering, dirty background detail. There is a certain former member of the Sarnia Sting who is going to need a new contract soon.  It ain't gonna come cheap. Especially once Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane set the new bars for supremely talented goal scorers.

Monday night's Trade-a-palooza was just the opening salvo in what will probably be Mr. Yzerman's busiest off-season. It's also one of his most important as he looks to add the missing elements that can build on last season's success without destroying the foundation that has took him a few years to build.


Friday, June 6, 2014

The Lightning Card of the Week Returns!

Finally, it is time to return from yet another self-imposed writing hiatus. This one dragged on a bit longer than normal and featured a couple of posts that died before they had a chance to live. Lucky for you I am feeling rejuvenated and raring to go again. Of course I have no idea what to write about so I'll kick it off by leaning on a semi-regular crutch – The Lightning Card of the Week!

A once regular feature that has been mothballed (much like boxing coverage and Through The Mail posts) due to sheer laziness I figure it's a good way to keep writing with the lull between the end of the season for the Bolts and the upcoming draft/free-agency season. Let's see what the box of hockey cards has in it:




A 2001-02 Upper Deck Tantalizing Tandems Vincent Lecavalier/ Brad Richards insert.

Look at those two – so young, so unaware of their careers would take them (they haven't even starred in “The Punisher” yet. Just two kids from Canada having fun playing hockey in Tampa. When the card was issued Vincent had finished his third full season in the NHL, scoring 20 goals in the regular season for the second year in a row (a streak that would continue for 12 seasons) and was the youngest player to ever be named captain of a NHL team (Sidney Crosby and Gabriel Landeskog have since stolen that accolade).

Richards was the dynamic rookie who had lead the team in scoring in his first full season and finished second in the Calder Trophy race. This was the year that the original “Big Three” of Lecavalier, Richards and a young cast-off from Calgary named Marty St. Louis played together for the first time. The nucleus of the 2004 Stanley Cup team was born that year.

On the back of the card, the copy writers for Upper Deck wrote that “Tampa Bay will look to young and talented centers Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier to ignite the offense” and that the team was “hoping to be one of the most improved teams in the NHL in 2001-02”.

The Lightning did improve their record in 2001-02 by winning three more games over the year before. Oddly enough their offense actually decreased year-to-year. The 2000-01 squad scored 201 goals while the 01-02 team only scored 178. While Richards submitted numbers that were almost a carbon copy of the year before, Lecavalier struggled as he only scored 37 points under the burden of the captaincy.

The notable change was on their defense as the 00-01 defensive corps surrendered an unconscionable 280 goals (which is what happens when Kevin Weekes, Dan Cloutier, Wade Flaherty and Dieter Kochan occupy time in the crease). The next season would be the first full season for the enigmatic Russian Nikolai Khabibulin. With the “Bulin Wall” in net only 219 pucks would cross the Lightning goal line.

Richards and Lecavalier were both fresh-faced 20-year-olds when this card was first inserted its mylar wrapper. Over a decade later, they are now gray-haired veterans wearing uniforms for other teams. Richards, reunited with St. Louis in New York is currently battling for another Stanley Cup. Quite a turnaround from a year ago where he was a leading candidate to be bought out after being benched in the playoffs. Lecavalier fell victim to the amnesty buyout sword in Tampa and struggled through another injury-plagued season in Philadelphia. He did, however, knock off a bevy of career accomplishments by scoring his 400th career goal, his 500th career assist and 900th career point during the 2013-14 season.

As for me, I was living the good life in 2001-02. I had just bought my truck (man I miss that truck) and was still living in a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Largo, Florida. I was working at the Super Happy Fun Company making more money than I should have while not saving anywhere near enough. My game-day attire probably would have been shorts, sandals and a Lightning name-less third jersey (the one with the lightning bolts down the sleeves). Tickets to games were unbelievably cheap. So cheap that scalping them wasn't necessary. I'm pretty sure I was single.....yup definitely single.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Don't Expect The Unexpected - Mayweather vs. Maidana

Floyd Mayweather is fighting on Saturday. Did you know that? Did you know that the most recognizable name in American boxing has a major pay-per-view fight? More importantly, do you care? Is anyone other than his accountant excited about this fight? At least the Canelo fight had an engaging opponent in the young Mexican.

What does Marcos Maidana have going for him? Well, he beat Adrian Broner aka Mayweather, Jr, Jr, So the argument goes that he knows what to expect from Mayweather, he's seen the “roll shoulder” defense and he knows how to beat it since Broner pretty much employs the same style. To me that's like saying I could strike Eddie Murray out because in high school I struck out someone who copied Murray's batting stance. As far as I'm concerned “Chino” has no shot, NO SHOT, to win.

Sure he's saying all of the right things. He's going to attack, he's going to pressure, he's going to hurt Mayweather if he hits him. Which is kind of funny to me. Watching a couple of the “All Access” pre-fight shows I noticed Roberto Garcia, Maidana's trainer, uses the word “if” a lot. You would think the quote would be, “When I hit him I will hurt him” not “If I hit him”.

Therein lies the Floyd problem. He is a hard man to hit inside a boxing ring. Watching the Broner/Maidana fight is like watching a minor league version of the upcoming fight. All of the same actions are there, just at a slightly reduced speed. Those winging left hooks and chopping right hands that Maidana kept bouncing off of Broner's head? They're going to find nothing but air when he throws them against Mayweather. Either that or in the time it take “Chino” to wind up he'll eat two straight rights from the champ.

The time it took you to read this caption is about how long it took Chino to throw the punch


So how do you sell tickets to a fight that everyone knows the outcome to? You make it about something else. Hence the sudden retirement talk. If this is the last time Floyd Mayweather steps into a ring, isn't worth plunking down the $65 to see it? This could be one last chance to see greatness, and make no doubt about it “Money” is a once-in-a-lifetime great fighter, one last chance to see an artist at work. Shouldn't that bring in a couple of hundred more pay-per-views and buy Mayweather another Rolex?

After Saturday he has three fights left on his deal with Showtime/CBS. Even though he is an aging 37-year-old I don't see him throwing away another potential $100 million in purses to own the Clippers or promote other boxers. Besides, with his history of “retirements” and extended time out of the ring I wouldn't be shocked if Showtime/CBS had slipped a clause in the contract requiring a buyout or return of future funds should he not fulfill the six fight deal in a certain amount of time.

My guess, based on entirely nothing, is that after he disposes of Maidana he fights Amir Khan next (providing the flashy Brit doesn't find himself staring up from the canvas in his own fight), then Peter Quillin and maybe, just for fun, a final passing-of-the-torch match with his protegee Adrian Broner. I'm sure if Quillen or Khan muck things up you could throw Sergio Martinez's name in the hat as well.

The point being that Mayweather will fight three times over the next 18 months, but it won't be against anyone that can actually beat him. As much as he loves stacks of money, Rolexes, Bentleys and big mansions, he loves that big fat “0” in the loss column even more. That's what allows him to be who he is, the entire “Money” Mayweather myth is built around his invulnerability and the fact that no man has ever beaten him as a professional boxer. If he loses then he's just another good fighter who faded at the end of his career.

I don't think those are $1 bills


I don't want to dismiss Marcos Maidana as a fighter. He is a really good fighter who punches hard and has beaten some decent fighters in Broner and Josesito Lopez, but he also lost to the glass-jawed Khan and Devon Alexander – two fighters not exactly in Mayweather's league. However as an 11-1 underdog it appears the betting public has already dismissed him in this fight. That being said boxing is a weird sport. He might catch Floyd with a wild left hand. Or maybe he gets inside and gets away with some rough, brawling tactics – a low blow here, a forearm to the throat there – that gets Mayweather off of his game. Maybe the unfairness of receiving $1.5 million to Floyd's $32 million will motivate him to a level we don't think he's capable of. I doubt it, but that's why they decide it in the ring.

Mayweather has said that he's going to be aggressive in this fight and take it to Maidana. Mayweather says a lot of things before a fight that don't end up happening. I don't see him doing anything different than he has against Alvarez or Robert Guerrero or Miguel Cotto. He will slip punches, counter, fire off blistering combinations and then masterfully spin out of trouble before Maidana realizes what happened. Twelve rounds later the referee will hold his arm in the air as the unanimous victor. He's done it for 18 years as a professional and it's been successful all 45 times he's stepped into the ring. But will there be anyone watching when it happens?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

No. No They Couldn't Dig Themselves Out

On Wednesday night three series went to a game seven. Sadly, the Tampa Bay/Montreal series was not one of them. Since you're reading this on the internet I'm going to assume you know that the Lightning had the distinct honor of being the first team bounced from the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While that isn't the ideal end to a season it could have been worse. You could be a San Jose Sharks fan.

As I mentioned over on Raw Charge, there is no need to break out the fancy stats for this one. Simply put, the Montreal Canadiens were the better team. They outplayed the Lightning for most of the series (there were occasional pockets where Tampa looked like the better team) and they deserved to win the honor of getting their asses kicked by the Bruins in the next round.

Since there is no need to rehash the series let's instead review the predictions I made a couple of weeks ago. Unlike other prognosticators that tend to never go back and review their “bold predictions” I own up to my often wildly inaccurate previews. Let's see how I did:

Winner – Lighting in 6

Well that didn't happen. So much for the Canadiens being the ideal match-up in the first round. The Lightning never really found the extra gear needed to be successful in the playoffs. The Canadiens seemed to win every battle for the puck, outskated the Lightning in all three zones and created their own lucky bounces.

Number of OT Games – 4

Only one game, the first game, went to overtime. Despite the fact that they were swept, it wasn't like the Canadiens blew them off the ice. Three of the four games were decided by one goal and had the Lightning been able to get one or two bounces to go their way (i.e. Alex Killorn's shot in overtime in Game One hits the post and goes in instead of bounding away harmlessly) this series plays out differently.

Longest OT - 3

Game One almost made it into the second overtime as Dale Weise banged home the winner at the 18:08 mark of overtime. Looking back, Montreal winning Game One was the turning point of the series. If the Lightning had managed to pull that game out, scoring 4 or 5 goals on less than 20 shots, the entire tone of the series changes. Weise bailed out Carey Price's sub-par performance in that game. To Price's credit he was almost invulnerable in the final three games. Plus the confidence factor for the young TampaCuse players would have been boosted. Instead, it felt like the Lightning were chasing their opponents for the next three games.

X Factor – PK Subban

Unfortunately for the Lightning, “Good” PK Subban showed up. He picked up five assists and was a force moving the puck through the neutral zone for the Canadiens. 

And his skating led to one of my favorite photos.
 

Leading Scorer Lightning – Stamkos

Hey, hey I got one right! Four points in four games for the Lightning captain was enough to lead the team in scoring. He was the best player on the ice for Tampa Bay, even after he took a knee to the skull in Game 3.

Leading Scorer Canadiens – Vanek

Thomas Vanek did have a decent series as he posted three points. However, the trio of Lars Eller, PK Subban and Brendan Gallagher all had five points. Almost all of Canadiens contributed offensively (only Francis Bouillon and Andrei Markov didn't register a point) and that depth was the biggest factor in their winning the series.

Number of Games Bishop Plays – 4

I really believed he was going to play in the series. At least I believed that until Game Three. Once he didn't come out in what was a must win for the Lightning I knew he was done for the playoffs. I guess a dislocated left elbow and a torn ligament in the right wrist is kind of hard to overcome.

Number of Games Gudlevskis Plays – 0 (please god let it be 0)

Unfortunately Kristers appeared in two games. He acquitted himself well, stopping 90% of the shots sent his way and keeping the Lightning close in Game Four. If they had pulled out a win in that game there is a good chance he might have started Game Five.

Number of Games BJ Crombeen Suits Up – 2

Nailed it!

(Three Points about Radko Gudas throwing hip checks)

As I mentioned in my post after Game Three I didn't get to see too much of the series thanks to my work schedule. Gudas played in three games and except for blowing a tire in Game One that led to a Montreal goal, played pretty well.

Role Player Who Will Have a Surprisingly Good Series – Tom Pyatt

Pyatt saw action in only one game. One of the few tactical mistakes that I think Coach Copper made was his reliance on Cedric Paquette. I know his rookies had come through for him all through the season, but to rely on a player that had only 2 games of experience with the team was asking too much. I'm not sure if the Lightning win the series if Pyatt is in, but I think he helps them shut down some of the secondary scoring that the Canadiens generated.

Will JT Brown Score a GoalYes

If it had gone six games I think he would have scored. With Pyatt not playing I'll name Brown as my role player who had a good series. He picked up two assists and was one of the more aggressive forecheckers the Lightning had during the match-up.


So yeah I got two right. As usual not even close to being .500. I don't even want to tell you how bad my bracket looks on NHL.com. Another successful bout of prognostication from the expert!