Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas! It's Card Of The Year TIme!

Guest blogging from my sister's house in Baltimore. It's quarter after nine on Christmas Eve and my shopping is done. Alas, hours of wrapping lay ahead, but that's what beer and A Christmas Story are for. In the meantime, I thought I would slip in one more post. It's that time of year. Once again, the world sits and waits for the announcement.


The award was originally established in 2008 when I pulled a beautiful Masterpiece oncard auto of Melvin Emmanuel Upton. 2009 featured a card that I picked up due to my tough negotiating at the local flea market . Now it's back and out of control.

Let us not waste anymore cyberink. Here it is in all of its glory:

The 2010 Topps Eddie Murray Shortprint Variation.

Revel in its glory. First of all it's a night card, which increases the coolness of any card by a factor of 10. It's horizontal (factor of 3). Murray is sporting old school stirrups (factor of 2), the mustache-to-sideburns facial hair (factor of 8) and is settling into his stance with the subtle bad-assness that made him my favorite player as a kid (factor of 15). All in all this card's coolness has been increased by a factor of 38, making it 38 times cooler than any other card I saw this year.

And I say saw, because as of right now I don't own this card. Yup I didn't take that picture, stole it from eBay (that's what he gets for having a $19.95 BIN price). I want this card, I've bid on this card and so far it's eluded me at all turns. As of right now it is established as my white whale, that card which renders my collection incomplete until I own it. It will be mine, oh yes it will be mine.

So how was 2010 as a collector for me? Not too bad, but not too great either. I stopped buying any random box of cards I stumbled across and focused on player collecting only to drop one of my players by the end of the year. I busted some products I liked (Chicle and Score Hockey), some that left me blah (Allen and Ginter Leaf Certified), but nothing that I hated. So that's good.

I subsidized a portion of my purchasing with some ebay sales, which was nice, but it also led me to buy some cards I probably wouldn't have in the past. Then again, in the past I've bought boxes of cards that I didn't need, so I guess even that was better.

Trading was down, which I blame on being 1000 miles away from 90% of my collection. Hopefully, that will pick up next year as I bring some of the cards up to Chicago.

If I had to grade the year I would give it a solid C+. Other events conspired to push cards to a back burner, but I still enjoyed 99% of my association with cards and haven't lost the joy I get out of busting a new pack or getting a padded envelope in the mail.

2011 will bring more fun and collecting as well as a new player to collect. I'm officially on board as an Eddie Murray collector. Shocking seeing as how the last two card related posts were about him. I even have my membership card... not really I made one up....actually no I didn't...well I thought about it.

Due to my prodigious collecting during the late 80's and 90's I should have the bulk of his base cards. Now it's a matter of getting some of the fun cards that have come out in the last few years. I think I might start picking a particular set and tackling it one at a time. For instance of his cards in 2010 Chicle, then all of his cards in 2010 Topps base, etc.

Here's hoping that Santa brings you all of the cards that you wish for this year. Good luck in collecting next year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chicago Photo 9 - Christmas Time!


Another in the line of Chicago icons. The lions that stand guard outside of the Art Institute of Chicago. The photo is from a couple of weekends ago when the first snow of the year rolled through the city. It wasn't too bad, just 3 or 4 inches.

I forgot how quiet the world gets when it snows. Everything seemed muffled and peaceful as I wandered down the street to the CTA station. Even downtown, the normal bustle of the city was subdued. It was quite peaceful. And I didn't bust my ass on the ice, so that was a bonus.

Back to the lions. Made out of bronze, they've been guarding the entrance to the Art Institute for over 100 years, since the building opened in 1893. As you can see in the photo the care takers occasionally decorate them. In the past they've also sported the Bears and Blackhawks helmets.

Nameless, the Lions are referred to as the "North Lion" and the "South Lion". The sculpter, Edward Kemeys, has stated that the lions are protecting the building and the South Lion has spotted something in the distance and is eyeing it carefully. See even back then people where worried about the South Side.

Traditionally, the wreaths around the necks of the lions are made of evergreen and holly. This year they are made of tiny little red balls that are solar powered allowing them to glow during the evening hours.
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Hey, Look Who's Finally Posting Something About Carl Crawford!

One Hundred. Forty. Seven. Million. Dollars. That’s a lot of money. Even in the convoluted world that is major league sports it’s a lot of money. Enough to walk away from the only franchise he ever knew. Enough to say good bye to a fan base that adored him (when they were involved enough to care). Enough to sign with a division rival so that those same fans can see him in the opposition’s colors 18 times a season.

I thought I would be more upset at Carl Crawford. Of course, I also thought there would be a Festivus miracle and the Rays would announce that they had resigned the four time All-Star from Waco. And yet here we are. Crawford flashed his charming smile as he donned the Red Sox jersey and I merely shrugged my shoulders and flipped the channel.

Twelve year old Justin G. would not have handled it so well. There would be moping, perhaps some tearing up of cards and other means of youthful, yet ineffective protest. It’s kind of sad to think that I’ve grown past that level of fan-dom. The blind, passionate devotion to a player or a team that kids possess. Kind of like believing in Santa Claus.

Tampa Bay Rays’ fans are at a crossroads. For the last three years they’ve tasted success, now they’re paying the price for that success. Other popular players had been moved out before, most notably Aubrey Huff and Scott Kazmir. Neither one of them had the cache of Crawford, though.

He was the one that had been there the whole time, the many years of the bad and the few years of the good. He had come up through the system, been the one constant through the long years. It was only in the last few years that Crawford had started to garner the adoration on the national level that had always been present on the local level.

Early in his career he relied on pure speed, lacking the mechanical fundamentals of more polished runners like Rickey Henderson or Vince Coleman. Few things were more fun then watching him leg out a triple. Rounding second it often looked like he was running two fast for his body. Arms wind milling wildly, legs churning it was a wonder he didn’t fall down more often.

I’m sure someone could look it up and dispute it, but it seems like nobody in the league got to two strikes faster than Crawford. It seems like he was always hitting 0-2 or 1-2. Sometimes he would concede to the two strikes and slap the ball on the ground to the left side. More times than not he would beat the throw out. Other times he would hack away, without a care in the world. Few batters look worse when they swing and miss, or look better when they connect and drive the ball a surprisingly far distance.

For years he toiled in obscurity. So long it seems impossible to believe he’s not 30 yet. I have a lingering image of him standing in left field with his hands on hips as Jesus Colome, Jae Kuk Ryu or Tanyon Sturtze jogged in from the bullpen in route to another 8-4 loss. He looked like a man who wanted to be anywhere else.

Yet in 2005 he signed a long, team-friendly extension. The rumors of the Rays dealing him away quietly died down and after Rocco Baldelli’s role on the team succumbed to health issues Crawford emerged as the face of the franchise. To Rays’ fans he was “our guy”. Maybe the rest of the league didn’t appreciate his talents, but for the loyal 10,000 fans in the TBA he was more valuable than Manny or god forbid - Jason Bay.

Then baseball changed around him. With the steroid allegations swirling and harsher drug testing imposed, home runs lost some of their luster. While the importance of a lumbering, slugging home run hitter being valuable to the team might not have totally disappeared, it has been at least devalued. Players who an run, hit and play a little defense suddenly became more important.

In addition Merlot Joe became the Rays manager. (Please note Merlot Joe is not my nickname, I am blatantly ripping it off from another site - Rays Index). Madden let Crawford be Crawford. Swing away, get on base and run till your heart is content.

Then the Rays started winning. Making it to the playoffs but the team on the national stage for the first time and even though Crawford struggled in the World Series (as did the rest of the offense) people took notice. The talking heads started talking about his talents and the TBA started to get nervous. He wasn’t our secret any more.

In the 2009 All Star game he robbed Brad Hawpe of a potential game winning home run and took home the MVP award. More national attention and more nervous fans. Swiping a record tying six bases against the Red Sox didn’t help. As the Rays dropped out of the playoff race that season the trade rumors started to swirl. Under contract for another year perhaps it was time they cashed in their chips and started over. Thus began the Desmond Jennings hype.

2010 saw the season begin with Crawford still in the blue and white of the Rays. Luckily for Rays fans the team was in contention from the get go. As a swan song Crawford rewarded his fans with the best all around season of his career. His first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, career highs in home runs (19), RBI’s (90), and batting average (.307). Leading the team to their second division title in 3 years he showed all of the potential and sealed his fate in Saint Pete.

The Rays will move on. Crawford’s records will be broken and there will be other players to cheer for. Who knows, in seven years maybe he comes back for a reunion tour. Even if he doesn’t he will always have a special place in the hearts of true Rays fans. In his first game back, welcome him warmly, but then remember he plays for the Red Sox now.

As for me and my personal Carl Crawford collection, well it’s time to move on. Over the next few months I will be liquidating my 100 or so card collection on the Bay. Certain financial obligations that cropped up during the typing of this post do not allow me to trade away the collection as was my original intent. However, if you’re interesting making an offer drop me a line and we might be able to work something out.

It was a good run, and I picked up some neat cards that I really enjoyed. There will be some sadness in seeing them go, but they’ll be another player to collect and more fun cards to discover. The player will be named shortly when I reveal the prestigious Hopeful Chase Card of the Year sometime next week.

Thank you Carl Crawford. Enjoy success in the future, well not too much success……

Monday, December 13, 2010

Quick Hits - It's Damn Cold Edition

Some thoughts while I watch the Ravens make this Monday night game way closer than it needs to be.

* The Linus Omark Spin-o-Rama Shootout Goal. I love the Lightning, but c'mon guys relax. It's a shootout, if he wants to add some flair let him. It wasn't that long ago that Marty St Louis suffered the same criticism for his backwards skating shootout goal. And Dan Ellis - if anything has been "disrespectful" this season it's been your goaltending.

* It was nice of Steven Stamkos to let Sidney Crosby back in the goal scoring race.

* Like (not love) the O's moves in the off-season so far. I have a feeling that Mark Reynolds will end up around .240 and 35-39 HR's. Look for Nick Markakis to rediscover some of the power he lost last year.

* Did Brett Favre die or just miss a game? Kind of hard to tell with ESPN's coverage today.

* In the middle of a Carl Crawford column in which I'll announce the fate of the personal collection.

* Not sure which verbal crutch I'm a bigger fan of - Jon Gruden's "THIS GUY" or Jaws' "NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE".

* Caps fans panicking over a six game losing streak in December is HI-larious.

* Loving the cold weather so far. Gives me an excellent excuse to not do anything except surf the web and drink hot chocolate.

* A lot of folks bemoaning the "demise" of the Rays. With their starters they'll still be in it at the end next year. Don't lose faith in Friedman & Co. Rays fans.

* Don't look for Steve Yzerman to make any rash moves in regards to the goaltending woes for the Lightning. There really isn't much out there that's available. The asking price for Tomas Vokoun is going to be too high and trading for Dewayne Roloson or J.S. Giguere doesn't exactly solve the problem. That being said I wouldn't be surprised if Yzerman hasn't at least put a call in to Evgeni Nabokov's agent. Why not give young Cedrick Desjardins a try in the meantime? Could he do any worse? I submit to you that he cannot.

* Nervous about the last three games for the Ravens. New Orleans will light them up. Cleveland is feisty and Cincinnati beat them once already.

Hey look it's and eight point game. Way to close strong boys!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The First Cards of December!

If I had any type of blogging motivation at all I would probably start a 12 Cards of Christmas gimmick on this website that culminated with me revealing the 2010 Hopeless Chase Card of the Year. However, those that know me (hi Mom and Dad!), know that out of all of my wonderful traits motivation is not one of them. So instead you get just a quick post about a card I got in the mail.

Could this card signal the birth of a new player collection? With the departure of Carl Crawford imminent, perhaps I should focus my attention on a player who can't break some little kid's heart by jumping town.

On a side note, is it even remotely possible that some kid in the TBA wrote a letter to Santa Claus in which all he wants for Christmas is for CC to sign a 7 year deal with the Rays? Do kids even write to Santa anymore? Because I'm sure a 5 year old Justin G. would have done that, if he could write, that is. What age do kids start writing? I don't know these things, good thing I'm not a parent I guess.

Where was I? Oh yeah, a card in the mail. Here it is:

It's a 1978 Topps Eddie Murray Rookie Card.

I wouldn't call it my White Whale, more like a White Tuna, maybe. I've bid on Murray rookies about 10 times this year and lost out on every occasion as furious bidding in the final moments drove it out of my price range. Just for fun I put a bid on one last week and actually managed to grab it for a reasonable price.

As I grow older as a collector and a fan I tend to remember only the good parts of my childhood as a fan. 0-21? Don't remember the 21 losses, but I do remember the Chicago White Sox fans cheering for the O's win in the 22nd game. Eddie Murray traded for a bundle of spare parts? Nope, Memorial Stadium rocking with "ED-DIE, ED-DIE" chants.

So I picked up the card and have toyed with the idea of starting a Murray collection to replace CC. We'll see what happens with that as the days roll on. In the meantime, I'll look at classic O's cards and remember the childhood days.

Speaking of childhood, if there are any young readers out there reading. Let me fill you in on one of the great things about being an adult. As I typed this up, guess what I had for dinner. A bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Not a small bowl either, a heaping bowl of sugary goodness.

The best part (other than the sugar rush jitters) no one is here to look disapprovingly at me. It's glorious! So when an if you're wondering if it's awesome to be an adult - sometimes it is.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankfully Short

So it's the day after Thanksgiving (or as my Canadian boss would say Thanks Giving) and there is still a ton to be thankful for. My Significant Other, family, friends, a job, bacon chocolate chip cookies, etc.

What else am I thankful for? How about Steven Stamkos' mustache?

Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI

Is that not a thing of beauty? It's not as lush as some of his teammates (Ryan Malone, Steve Downie and Nate Thompson to name a few), but it's the embodiment of a teenage mustache. Yes, I know he's no longer a teenager, but still. Wispy and whimsical. Hopefully, it stays past Movember. After all, who messes with a hot streak?

Also, thanks to an extra slow day at work I was able to read a few hockey blogs and think it's time to anoint Stamkos with a new nickname. Stammer is nice, as is Spicoli and Seen (both compliments of the fine folks at Raw Charge ).

Those fine folks had their weekly link dump that contains a few Stamkos related tidbits. It seems like almost everything hockey is Stamkos related at this point.

First nominee - The Butcher

ESPN's - Scott Burnside

Stamkos asked to be quizzed on the stats printed on the back. He worked at a butcher shop in downtown Toronto where he learned to interact with the public

With his cherubic face it works nicely on an ironic level. Kind of like "Killer" for James Wright. Surprisingly, I couldn't find any relatively famous hockey players nicknamed "The Butcher" so he can lay claim to it.

Second nominee - Smiles

From CBC's Eliot Friedman-

5. One referee, on Steven Stamkos: "No one in the NHL plays with a smile on their face like he does." I think that's so important. You can't be great at anything unless you love it.

"Smiles" Stamkos. Not as menacing as "The Butcher" but definitely catchy and alliterative. Again, I couldn't find a notable hockey player with the nickname so I guess it's open.

As I've mentioned before I'm not a hockey historian so if I missed someone let me know. It would be nice to anoint the kid with a halfway original nickname in this era of A-Rod's and "Greenie's".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One Man, A CTA Pass, $50 and a Card Show.

So I finally got myself together in time on a weekend and made it to a card show. While it wasn’t like traveling to the top of Everest, it did require a journey of modestly epic proportions. Was it worth it? Did I blow the rent money on a Gem Mint Floyd Rayford rookie? Did I get stranded in Rosemont? Were there cheerleaders there? Were there any women there? Let’s find out!

The first task on my hero’s journey was to actually wake up before the stroke of noon. For some that might not seem to tough, but those some hadn’t cracked a new bottle of Jamison’s and downloaded the original Legend of Zelda on their Wii the night before. (Sorry ladies, believe it or not, I’m already spoken for.)

Despite a night that ended at 2:30 AM ( I made it through five levels before calling it a night) I was up and raring to go at about 8:30. With a hangover surprisingly absent I pulled myself together in fairly quick order, grabbed some shoes, my white “Pele” edition adiddas (a decision I would rue in the hours to come), and stumbled out in time to catch a westbound bus on Belmont. About 40 minutes later it dropped me off at the blue line “El” station that would carry me the rest of the way to Rosemont.

The ride was uneventful, mostly because I had my nose buried in a book for most of the ride. By the way, I recommend checking out Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. For a book written in the 1930’s it’s a rather relevant, satirical take on wartime journalism. Along the ride I did spy, Kuma’s Korner, a local, rather well-renowned burger joint that I thought about hitting up after the show.

Getting off the Blue Line about 30 minutes later I hiked the 3-4 blocks to the convention center and came up with a game plan. With admission at a respectable $10 (that was covered by the $13 I had found on the sidewalk the night before) I had to decide how much I was willing to spend on cards at the show. It would only be cards since all I had was a messanger bag to carry my loot around in. I didn’t want to be “that guy” carrying a six-foot cardboard sign of Cal Ripken on the bus.

Fifty dollars sounded like a reasonable sum, more importantly an affordable sum. Now that I was spending my nights getting bombed at home, I wasn’t spending that much money at the bars so I figured I could get away with that and not have to suffer through ramen noodles and soup for the rest of the month.

I didn’t have any of my want lists with me, or even a vague idea of what to buy. I was going to allow myself to be open to all of the possibilities that a card/memorabilia show on the second floor of a convention hall near the airport would be open to.

One other reason that I was heading to the show was to meet another blogger. Sal from Puck Junk had inquired about a card I had pulled from my Leaf Certified box and I told him it was available. He mentioned that he could take care of a significant chunk of my Upper Deck Champs wantlist. A deal was struck and we agreed to meet at the show for the exchange.

It was interesting to meet a fellow blogger. And by fellow, I mean better and more prolific blogger. After all, so far my contact with other bloggers had been through e-mail, comments, trades and a fantasy hockey league. To meet one in the flesh would blur the line between cyber and real life.

We met by the food stand, introduced each other and made some small talk. We hit a couple of booths together and then drifted apart. We were each looking for different things and spent time sorting through different areas. He was on a vintage mission and I was on a…well....browsing spree? We would reconvene just before I left (about 3 hours later) and he showed me what he got…excellent stuff that I’m sure he’ll post on his site at some point.

So enough build up, what does $50 buy you at a card show when you have no plans? Well this….

Let’s break it down:
1990-91 Upper Deck Set (with High Number Series) $4.00. My first purchase. Sal talked me into it. I probably have a couple of hundred of these cards, when I first broke into hockey collecting, boxes for this set were insanely cheap on eBay. I split a couple with a buddy, but never seriously finished the set. Tons of rookies in the set with added benefit of mullets galore!

Carl Crawford Personal Collection - $.50

A 2010 Topps 206 Crawford. Nice portrait of the soon-to-be ex-Ray. I’m at a crossroads with my Crawford collection. Due I end it? Do I get rid of it? Do I keep collecting his Rays only cards? It’s a decision I’m postponing until he signs with a new team.

Random O’s Rookie - $.50

Brian Matusz Bowman Chrome. I’m a big fan of the lefty, and I think he’ll develop into a top of the line starter in the next year. I didn’t spend too much time sorting through baseball. Maybe it was the cold weather, but I was definitely in a hockey mood. There were plenty of booths selling baseball singles for reasonable prices. If I was better prepared I could have made a killing on completing sets.

2010-11 Upper Deck Lightning cards - $.90

For less than a dollar I picked up all of the Lightning base cards from the flagship series this year. No need to spend $60 bucks on a box now!

Random Stamkos card $.10

I needed to make it an even dollar so I picked up a Steven Stamkos Leaf Certified base card. It is currently the only Certified card that I own that isn’t serial numbered.

Vincent Lecavalier Personal Collection $3.00

From the shiny to the relatively old I actually managed to pick up seven cards that I didn’t own. I consider that a win!

Random Project that I’m working on that I haven’t told anyone about $8.00

Two autographed Lightning cards. Could I have talked the dealer down a little? Probably, but I was in a good mood so I didn’t. He was engaging and friendly and didn’t take things too seriously. That was worth the buck or two I could have saved.

One Box of 2010-11 Score - $25.00

I have been seeing this box for about $35.00 on the internets and was getting close to pulling the trigger. Being able to get it for ten bucks cheaper and not having to worry about shipping made it a no-brainer. I’ll put a box break together later. Needless to say nothing exciting was pulled, but it was fun to bust an “old school” box.

Total Damage - $41.00

I did look around to see if there was any one item I could blow the other $9.00 on, even to the point that I was looking in glass cases. There just wasn’t anything that screamed “BUY ME!” so I didn’t. I had made it a point not to buy cards just to but them. They all had to have a purpose. Look at me, I’m becoming responsible.

To sum up. I had a good time. I will do it again the next time a show of that size rolls around. What I won’t do is wear shoes with no support or come unprepared. Want lists are a must - this is one place where you can sit down (or stand) and sort through commons until your heart is content.

I will probably also take the plunge and buy a vintage baseball card. There were countless vendors there displaying vintage (pre 1960’s) cards. Even if I just picked up a common it would be cool to own a card from the 1930’s or 1940’s.

In addition to the millions (AND MILLIONS) of cards for sale, there were various other great pieces of memorabilia for sale. Unfortunately the $40 for the 1970 Baltimore O’S pennant would have put me over budget.

Throughout the day various ball players were signing and posing for pictures. I almost dropped $75 to get something from Eddie Murray signed, but I showed some more restraint and passed. It was tough, I really, really wanted to add a nice Eddie signature to the collection. While the rest of Baltimore was gaga over Ripken, I was a fan of Squeaky Clean Eddie Murray. He was smooth, he hit for power and he was responsible for 30,000 fans screaming “ED-DIE, ED-DIE” at the top of their lungs.

Sadly there were no cheerleaders, but there were women. Mostly wives of older gentlemen who tagged along and looked like they’d rather be anywhere else on earth. You know the look ladies, it’s the one your man gets when he’s shopping with you!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hey Hockey Card Fans


Thanks to the kindness of Sal over at Puck Junk, 36 cards have been eliminated from the want list. For all of those that mentioned you might have some extras, drop me an email at to see if we can work a deal out.

Have some extra 2009-10 UD Champs? Send them to a good home! See the attached link for my needs list....

Click Here!

By the way it's currently 7-7 after two periods in the Lightning/Flyers tilt. Most entertaining game I've ever watched.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Free Agency? Ain't Nothin' Free About These Players!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well one of several I guess. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I’ve written about the NHL trade deadline being the best time of the year. Along with NHL free agency and the MLB trade deadline. Oh and Christmas! I love me some Christmas. November 14th would be the day I heard the first Christmas carol of the year. Oddly enough, not too early in my book. Any day past Halloween is open season for as far as I’m concerned.

Where was I? Oh yeah, best time of the year. MLB free agency is officially under way. For the second year in a row the O’s sign an Atkins. Hopefully, Mitch pans out better than Garrett did last year. After putting up decent numbers in the minors last year, 8-3 with a 3.63 ERA, he’ll have a shot at making the club as a spot starter or long relief in the bullpen. Atkins is another former Cubs’ prospect brought in by GM Andy McPhail.

Now that they’ve broken the ice with their first new player what else lies in store for the Birds over the next four months or so? Probably not as much as O’s fans are hoping for. With a few exceptions, this isn’t a remarkably deep free agent class. Which means the game changing players that are available are probably going to be priced out of Baltimore’s comfort zone.

The days of throwing out money willy-nilly to bring in a “big name” are gone. Though some fans might not agree with it, McPhail has a plan. It involves rebuilding the farm system, developing talent and making wise free agent signings. He’s been quoted as saying that his plan is to “grow the arms and buy the bats”. In this year’s class there aren’t that many bats out there to be bought.

The good news for O’s fans is that there are less and less positions to fill every year. Let’s take a look at the positions as they stand right now:

Catcher - Matt Wieters
First Base - ?
Second Base - Brian Roberts
Short Stop - ?
Third Base - ?
Left Field - Felix Pie
Center Field - Adam Jones
Right Field - Nick Markakis

Now some folks will grumble that Pie isn‘t a lock for the starting leftfield gig. Well go ahead and grumble….on your own blog. Injuries are the only thing keeping him from being thought of as an everyday player, and this could be the year he shakes that stigma.

What I’m going to do for in the next few minutes is give you my wish list to fill the empty spots AND the more likely free agent signing. So here we go!

First Base:

My wish list - Derrick Lee

Yes, he’s getting older (35 years old) and the power has declined a bit over the last couple of years, but he’s still a good fit for the O’s. He has 25 homerun potential and is a 3 time Gold Glove winner at first base.

How nice would it be to have a natural first baseman on the roster again? No more outfielders or third basemen trying to learn the position. Scooping errant throws saves outs, more importantly it saves pitches. Cutting down on the outs young pitchers needs to helps them immensely.

Plus, he adds middle of the order power to the line up. Wouldn’t his right handed bat look nice after Markakis’ left handed bat? Perhaps Nick the Stick will find some of that power he lost last season not having a consistent home run threat behind him.

What would it take to sign him? 3 years - $35-ish million? Maybe with an option for a fourth year?

Who are they going to sign instead? Xavier Nady A couple of years younger, undoubtedly cheaper and just not as good. If they sign him to a one year deal I’m not mad - anything longer that that is just money wasted.

Shortstop - DEREK JETER!!!!! Just kidding. There is no way he signs with anyone other than the Yankees. So my choice would be. Bring back Julio Lugo. Right now the only viable option on the 40 man roster is Robert Andino. While he’s shown promise in short bursts, he hasn’t proven to be an everyday player. Lugo isn’t flashy, but he gets the job done - cheaply.

Who will they sign? Lugo.

Third Base - Joe Crede. Yes I know, another player coming off a bad year. The O’s at this point aren’t a destination for marquee free agents. Adrian Belte is not coming to Baltimore. Nor are they going to match the 5 year $65 million that the A’s have thrown out there for Beltre. Crede can be had for one or two years (time enough for Josh Bell to get more at bats at AAA) and could provide power in a hitter’s park.

Who will they sign? Eric Chavez. History of back injuries? Former superstar? 61 total games played in the last 3 seasons? Sounds like 3 years and $28 million to me!

Of course, my dream free agent pick up would be Carl Crawford. My favorite player playing on my favorite team? Yes please! Unfortunately, he is the marquee non-pitcher on the free agent list this year which means the wealthy teams will be bidding against each other and driving his cost up into Teixerian regions.

Justin, you say, what about pitching? There has to be at least one pitcher out there you’d like to see in the black and orange. Well, yeah. Cliff Lee would rock the bird, but it’s not happening. There is one guy that, if they can get him for the right price, would help anchor the staff.

Brandon Webb. There is some worry about his shoulder. His agent is kicking the tires on the idea of a $10 million deal. Not exactly making him a slam dunk, but there is enough upside to make him worth a look.

He’s a ground ball pitcher (Camden Yards eats fly ball pitchers for brunch), in his prime (31 years old), and a winner (22 and 18 wins in his last two full seasons). He could fill both the mentor role that Kevin Millwood provided last year along with the added benefit of actually being able to win games.

I don’t expect the O’s to make too many big splashes this off-season, to do so would be to deviate from a plan initiated two years ago. One that started to show some progress over the second half of the season. It might have been Buck Showalter’s magic wand, but it could be the fact the young players had 80-90 games under their belt and were gaining their footing.

The team has potential, especially if the arms continue to develop. Overpaying for a mediocre crop of free agents would delay or destroy their progress. They won’t be competing for the division crown next season, but they won’t be languishing in the basement either.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mailbag Monday

I’m not going to lie. This week’s Monday Mail Day is a bit depressing. Not because of the card I received, but because of who is on it. From the world’s marketplace, by way of Canada, I acquired a shiny new jersey card of Vincent Lecavalier.

A single, decent sized piece of his jersey adorns the front of the card. The back has it’s serial number, 215 out of 250. The significance of the number 215? Last week, Vincent picked up the 215th nagging injury of his career.

No that’s not right, it just seems like it. Lecavalier did suffer an injury to his hand as he batted a puck out of the air. A play that happens 3 or 4 times a game led to him suffering an “unstable fracture” in his right hand. He had surgery Monday, having a plate inserted, and is expected to miss 4-5 weeks.

It comes at a particularly inconvenient time for a team that has suffered a plague of injuries of a biblical proportions over the past month. First it was Dominic Moore and Matt Smaby. Then it was Simon Gagne and Steve Downie. Moore, Smaby and Downie returned to the ice just in time for Lecavalier to get knocked out.

Downie is back on the ice, but not 100% and Gagne is out indefinitely. With Lecavalier out that means half of the top six forwards are out or less than their best. So it’s probably not a wonder why their goal output for November looks like:

November 3rd - 2
November 4th - 0
November 6th - 2
November 9th - 4 (but it was against the Leafs)
November 11th - 3
November 12th - 1
November 14th - 1

Seven games and 13 goals. Oh by the way, they’ve lost 6 of those 7 games.

Losing Lecavalier isn’t going to help reverse those numbers. While he isn’t the 50 goal scorer anymore, he is still a valuable offensive threat on the ice. He anchors the power play and centers the second best line on the team. Now who is the number two center? Dominic Moore? Nate Thompson? The ghost of Brian Bradley?

The next 4 weeks are going to be the first really big test for the team. The shine of the new season has worn off. The non-stop praise about Guy Boucher’s innovative system has simmered down a bit. The team has dipped to a 8-7-2 record. They were 2 points behind the Capitals and are now 9.

If they are able to tread water until Lecavalier and Gagne return then things might be alright for the season. Should the tailspin continue, GM Steve Yzerman will have to see what kind of magical moves he can pull off during the season. Can he shore up the blueline, find a scoring threat and maybe find a goaltender that’s a little more consistent?

But hey I got a nice card to add to the collection.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chicago Photo 8

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Has it really been two months since I posted a Chicago Photo? Wow, time flies when you're broke and sitting at home. Well not broke (don't worry Mom I'm not eating Ramen noodles just yet) but cash flow impaired. Yeah that sounds about right.

I dragged my but out of bed last Saturday and headed down to Grant Park for the satellite broadcast of the Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity. It wasn't too bad at first, funny signs, relaxed easy going crowd. They played the first 10 minutes or so of Stewart's monologue before switching over to local speakers.

First the Progressive Party, then some Mitch Hedburg wannabe comedian who closed his act comparing abortion to making a sandwich (which the crowd booed, which brought a security guard to the mike who cursed out the crowd), then someone dressed as FDR and I finally left when the immigration guy started speaking.

I didn't go to hear a bunch of local politicians spout their agenda, I kind of went for the exact opposite. So I wandered around the rest of the park, snapping some photo of Buckingham Fountain before heading back to the train.

That's where this photo came from. He is one of the two indians that guard the Congress Drive entrance to the park. I believe this one is called The Bowman. An almost identical statue is across the street and is the Spearman.

Erected in 1928, and standing 17 feet above the street, these twin bronze statues present a rather dramatic scene set against the blue sky and park behind them. Walking from the park back to downtown they get a little lost in the buildings behind them, but up close it's nice to admire the details crafted by Ivan Mestrovic.

If you notice, the proud Indian is posed as if drawing the string back on his bow, yet there is no bow. At first I thought that over time the bow had broken and never been replaced, but my in depth research (upwards of 6 minutes!) indicates that Mestrovic intentionally left the weapon out of the sculpture.

Grant Park is full of statues and memorials, and makes for a nice place to wander around on a mild fall day. Oh and it's free!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Post About Head Shots? It's Only Two Weeks Two Late - And It's Not Even About Football!

I just wrote a whole article about boxing trying to compare it to the recent pseudo-outrage from the sporting press about head shots in the NFL. After two and a half pages of typing I scrapped it. It didn’t flow very well and I wasn’t in the mood to post it because I didn’t think it represented the best I can do. Which, after reading some of the posts on here is saying something.

There was one phrase I really wanted to use. I really liked the way it sounded in my head, and the way it looked on the screen. So I guess I’ll just use it here. Noble Sadness. There ya go. Enjoy it, breathe it in. Let it resonate in your skull. Say it out loud, don’t worry your co-workers won’t mind.

The phrase popped into my mind toward the end of a Vic Darchanyan / Rodrigo Guerrero replay on Showtime I watched the other night. Darchanyan (who I thought was named D’Artagnan for the first two rounds) dominated the younger Guerrero, a Mexican fighter who was fighting on U.S. soil for the first time.

Who are these guys, you ask. Bantamweight fighters I reply. That means the two of them combined weigh less than I do. Darchanyan, an Armenian by way of Australia (Yossarian the Assyrian) is an aging champion possessing tremendous power for a fighter his size. He was defending two titles against the unheralded, unknown Guerrero and outclassed him at every turn.

The young Mexican fought valiantly, but ineffectively. Despite landing early shots on the older fighter Guerrero couldn’t hurt him. By the end of the fight he kept throwing punches, but it was visible, even to an amateur critic like myself, that there was no steam in them. His jabs lacked any snap and his power punches had no body in them.

Darchanyan would shrug off any attempted offense and then launch into a multi-punch attack that would stagger, but not drop the younger fighter. Round after round the onslaught continued, until it was kind of uncomfortable to watch. Yet he still kept coming, blows reigning down on him and the only thing I could think of was how sad it was to watch, yet there was something noble in the way he kept working at it.

By the 8th round there was no way Guerrero could win the contest. He was waaaaaaayyy behind in points (the final scores would be 120-108, 118-110 and 117-111 which means even the overly optimistic judge gave him three rounds) and there was no way he was knocking Darchinyan out. Still he kept coming forward, looking for a way, anyway, to hurt the champion.

When it was over Darchinyan’s hand was raised as the winner he looked a little disappointed that he wasn’t able to give the crowd what they wanted - a knockout. Later he would admit that Guerrero was one of the toughest fighters he had ever fought and was surprised that he hadn’t been able to floor him.

Throughout the fight the Showtime commentators wondered out loud if Guerrero’s corner was doing him more harm then good by letting the fight continue. He is young, 21 at the time of the fight, and absorbing that much damage could be detrimental to his career. Imagine James Harrison slamming into Josh Cribs not once, but 35 times a game.

Having that happen can be more damaging then the big knockout. The one punch knockout looks great, but for the most part it’s just causes temporary damage. Suffering repeated shots, jarring the head back repeatedly in a short period of time is what causes permanent damage, that’s why boxers don’t age gracefully.

Sports fans tend to skew towards gladiatorial displays of violence. Which is why I found all of the rabble-rousing about one week of violent hits in the NFL so perplexing. Yes, some of the hits were illegal and unnecessary, but if they had happened over the course of a season instead of just a few hours would there have been such a hue raised? I submit to you that it would not.

So goes the duality of sports, punching someone in the face until they fall down is ok, but hitting them in the helmet with your shoulder pad is not. This is probably why my girlfriend thinks I’m insane for watching so many sports…..

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hey Look Who's Writing About Hockey Cards! This Guy!

Thanks to some budgeting, a couple of unexpected gift cards, a slightly better month on eBay, and countless brown bag lunches I was able to secure a new box of cards. On a beautiful October day in Chicago I took the CTA up to the Western stop to visit Tim’s Baseball Card shop. I’ve been a couple of times this year, but not since I’ve moved out on my own. The money just hasn’t been there to justify it until I scored big getting rid of a couple of cards (thanks Buster Posey!).

So I figured why not reinvest in a box of 2010-11 Panini Certified. The online reviews have been mostly positive, with the major concern being the number of parallels and inserts. Not a problem I thought, as a recent player collector convert I’d figure I’d score enough cards that didn’t matter to me to swap for new Lecavalier’s. Who knows, maybe I would finally pull a Vincent insert on my own.

I didn’t.

Not only did I not get an insert, I didn’t even get a Vincent base cards. Not only did I not get a Vincent base cards, there was nary a current Lightning player to be found. Nor was there a Sidney or an Ovechkin or Datsyuk to be found. Sadly, for the Captain there was no PK Subban, nor was there a David Krecji for Shane. As a matter of fact I didn’t pull a single base card that I could trade with anyone.

That’s because I didn’t pull a single base card at all. 52 cards with 52 serial numbers stamped on the back. Apparently, I done got hot-boxed. That’s right, Panini knew I would be visiting Tim’s store today, sometime late in the afternoon. They knew that someone who had promised to pick up a box on Friday would not show up thus leaving me with the last box in the shop thereby guaranteeing I would be wowed and write up a great review. Those dastardly demons!

Actually it appears that one out of every eight boxes have been stuffed with nothing but parallels. There have been reports of some folks getting more than the estimated number of hits. It seems that either they have a whimsical sense of quality control or that Panini is splashing into the hockey market by giving their customers more than what they expect. Either way I’ll take it.

Despite the joy of opening an entire box of cards that had a limited production run I’m not overly wowed by the set on a whole. Of the 50 cards I pulled there were some nice ones, a lot of shiny ones and one or two that garnered a second glance. Yet I’m not going to be heart broken to part with any of them.

The tight photos on the player limit the variations of poses that you see so that after a couple of packs the images are almost redundant. Winger waiting for a pass, goalie playing the puck, defenseman waiting for a face off, etc. Not exactly the awe inspiring camera work that other sets put out there (UD regular for instance).

The inserts are plentiful and a little bit better. I’m a fan of the Masked Marvels. Anytime I get to see an overhead shot of a goalie making a save I’m happy, even if it’s tiny goalie. The Certified Champions would make a nice card to get hand signed, nothing beats a picture a player holding the cup and showing the ultimate joy.

Overall, I was happy with this box as it gives me plenty of fodder for trade or sale on the bay. Would I recommend it for purchase? I would, just know what you’re getting into. If you’re a set collector run from this box. It will drive you insane with all of the variations. Better to wait till someone else collates it and buy it from them.

Four hits per box for about $100 isn’t bad either. It seems to be breaking down the middle pretty much with two auto’s and two jerseys (that’s what I pulled) and there is the usual mix of good players and midline common skaters.

Now on with the crappy photos.

Three stacks of Platinums.
1 Green # to 5
10 Blue # to 250
32 Red # to 999

The inserts

Mirror Gold Brad Richards 5/25
Mirror Red Zack Boychuk 158/250
Masked Marvels Blue Ondrej Pavelec 59/100
Masked Marvel Regular Steve Valiquette 434/500
Certified Champions Nicklas Lidstrom 236/500

The Hit's Part One

Marc-Andre Fleury Certified Champions Jersey Card 59/99
Derek Roy Blue Mirror Jersey Card 63/100

The Hits Part II

Michael Cammalleri Mirror Signature 14/25
Justin Mercier Mirror Freshman Signatures 100/250

The Hopeful Chase Three Stars of the Box

3. Justin Mercier Signature - Youngplayer and on card autograph
2. Brad Richards Gold Mirror - Former Lightning, Shiny and numbered to 25
1. Marc-Andre Flurey Champions - nicely designed card of Pittsburgh Netminder

I rate the box a second line winger. (again these rankings have no basis in reality).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Long, Rambling Post About Another Hockey Team

Let’s take a break from all of this Lightning talk to talk about…..another hockey team. How did the New Jersey Devils get to this point? From dressing 15 skaters, 2 wins in their first 8 games and the benching of Ilya Kovalchuk the year has been disaster thus far. It starts with, and ends with, the decision to sign Kovalchuk, not once, but twice.

The man responsible, Lou Lamoriello, has served as the General Manager of the Devils for more than two decades. In that time his team has appeared in the playoffs in 21 of the last 23 seasons and has lifted the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup, three times. During his tenure his teams have been noted for their tough defensive style, lack of big name scorers and reliance on All-World goaltender Martin Brodeur.

All of that was thrown out in an eventful off-season. The story for those not familiar goes a little something like this.

Lamoriello shocked the NHL world last year by making a trade to pry Kovalchuk away from the Atlanta Thrashers. He sent defenseman Johnny Oduya, a young forward in Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier and a first round pick down south for Kovalchuk and Anssi Samlema.

The prevailing thought was that Lamoriello had made an all in bet to rent the potential unrestricted free agent for a Stanley Cup push. The former first round pick played well in the picking up 2 goals and 6 points in 5 playoff games, but the 2nd seeded Devils were ousted by the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers and the season was over. For the most part the experts assumed that Kovalchuk’s career with New Jersey was finished as well. He was, after all, the most lucrative offensive player on the free agent market.

Los Angeles Kings fans were giddy with excitement, Caps fans were delirious with the rumor the Kovy would take a one year deal to play with Ovie. Even SKA St Petersburg fans were raising their vodka glasses in anticipation of Ilya coming home to play in the “K:”.

Yet in the end it was Lamoriello offering the biggest money as in $102 million over 17 years. This from the same man who traded away fan favorites such as Pat Verbeek and Bill Guerin after nasty contract negotiations. The GM front loaded the contract so as to prevent the salary cap from handcuffing the team 15 years down the road. At the height of the contract Ilya would be raking in a cool $11.5 million a year for five seasons, yet for the final five years he would only be making $550,000 (in other words $300,000 less per year than the Lightning are paying Dana Tyrell this season).

The NHL, already grumbling about long-term, cap-friendly deals handed out to Roberto Luongo and Marion Hossa, drew a line in the sand and ruled the deal illegal. An arbitrator agreed and the contract was voided . For trying to circumvent the CBA the Devils were hit with a $3 million fine, sacrificed a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick. Kovalchuk was a free agent. The Devils were off the hook!

Yet Lou went back at it, talked tough about appealing the punishment and managed to tweak the deal and signed Kovy to a new deal, this one with league approval. The only problem was the new deal knocked the Devils over the $56 million salary cap. Someone would have to be dealt or the Devils would be in a predicament. Would it be veteran Brian Rolston and his $5 million cap hit or young center Travis Zajak and his $3.15 million hit? In the end Lou couldn’t find a taker for either one of them.

They were able to tweak the roster to get under the cap to start the season, but quickly ran into trouble when Rolston was injured at the same time as Anton Volchenkov. A suspension to Pierre-Luc Letourneau-LeBlond left the Devils with only 15 healthy skaters. With no cap room they couldn’t call anyone up from the AHL. They were stuck with what they had.

Needless to say they haven’t played well. Add to that a coach’s decision to bench Kovalchuk on Saturday night and one has to wonder how the next decade and a half is going to play out for the Devils. How long will an aging Brodeur stick around? How will they rebuild with no cap room and the loss of draft picks? Will Kovalchuk grow tired of skating in Jersey and bolt for the KHL (that might be the best case scenario for the Devils)?

So why would this seemingly reasonable architect go against his nature and invest so much in the prolific Russian winger, especially at the detriment of the team? Luckily for you, my fine readers, I recently read a book that explains everything. Thanks to the Brafman brothers I am an expert on why people make dumb decisions.

I was at the library a few weeks ago looking for Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Blink. I like to read books like that on the train because then I think strangers think I’m smart. One thing about this town is that people read on the train. And it’s not just pulp fiction (although Steig Larson’s The Girl Who…trilogy is starting to reach DaVinci Code proportions) these folks are reading classic American literature. In the last week I’ve spotted The Grapes of Wrath, Atlas Shrugged and Native Son, so I have to step my game up.

Anyway, despite showing that it was available, Blink wasn’t where it was supposed to be. As a former library employee, mis-shelved books rank quite high on my list of pet peeves (though not as a high as waving around an unlit cigarette). Since it wasn’t available and I’m too lazy to complain to someone about it I figured I would just find something similar. That’s how I came to check out Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.

Written by Ari (a business expert) and his brother Rom (a psychologist) Brafman Sway is a quick 224 page look into why people, even supposed experts make dumb decisions. They jump across all professions from airline pilots, to SEC football coaches to venture capitalists. In analyzing the irrational decisions that are made they stumble across a few common themes. So let’s take a look at, and apply, a couple of their theories to the current New Jersey Devils predicament.

I. Loss Aversion

People have a tendency to go to great ends to prevent loss. Think of people holding on to sinking stocks long after they should have cut their losses. Could the thought of a 50 goal scorer (something the Devils have never had) been so enticing to Lamoriello that it blinded him to the repercussions of signing the winger?

Then he clung to his decision even after the NHL gave him an out. Why invest so much in a player that is the antithesis of Devils hockey? The Brafman brothers talk about commitment being part of loss aversion. People get an idea stuck in their head and cling to it to the point of blocking out other possibilities. Wouldn’t Kris Versteeg have looked nice fore checking for the Devils? With the extra money saved maybe another defenseman to shore up an aging blue-liner?

Possibly it was the price he paid to get the Russian sniper in the first place made him reluctant to part with him after only a few months of services so he threw more money at him, a lot more money. He might have been less willing to give him a large contract if the price had only been a first round pick and a nameless prospect. Having invested heavily by parting with Oduya and Bergfors did he need to justify it by bringing Kovy back? Possibly; and that leads us to the next factor.

II. Value Attribution

Giving a person or thing such an initial high value and sticking to it despite other data that might show you different. The initial value Lamoriello attributed to Kovalchuk was two young NHL-ready players, a prospect and a 1st round pick. Despite not helping the team reach the ultimate goal (the Stanley Cup) the GM continues to value the left-winger at that high cost.

In the book, the authors talk about how NBA first round picks tend to make more money and stick in the league longer than lower round picks even if they have the same or worse stats during their career. Once tagged with the 1st round pick status they carry that value throughout their career even if they don’t perform to that level.

It would have been easier to make this connection if Kovalchuk’s stats had been declining over the last few years, but a quick check on Hockey Database shows that he is churning right along. However, in the “new NHL” what is the value of a 45-50 goal scorer? Especially with a new CBA being negotiated in the next few years. Couldn’t $6.6 million be better invested in two young forwards and cap room? What about the 1st round picks they’ve lost (or will lose)? Keeping under the cap is easier when your skaters are under entry-level contracts.

There is a reason that there was only one other team in the sweepstakes. No one else in the league put his value over $100 million.

Sway has a couple of other attributes that lead people to make dumb decisions, but I had to take the book back to the library before I wrote this so you only get two. Also, it’s running on quite a bit and I’m getting tired so there ya go.

Did any of this make sense?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Season Preview Part III Let's Wrap This Up

To celebrate the Lightning's 3-0 start we'll wrap up the season preview with the third and final installment.

For Parts I and II go here:

Part One

Part Two

You Got Your Hug Now Go Earn Your Paycheck

Let’s make no mistake. I am a huge Vincent Lecavalier fan. I’ve made that clear on several occasions. I think he is by far the most talented player on the team, and in his aloof way the bell weather of the team. That’s not to say he isn’t without his faults. By no means should a captain ever have the term “aloof” attached to his name, not even by amateur bloggers with grammar issues.

If he was your girlfriend your friends would definitely refer to him as “high maintenance”. He is prone to confidence problems and can come off as disinterested during games in which he isn’t effective. His detractors claim that he quits on the team when things aren’t going well or that he doesn’t deserve the “C” on his shoulder because he’s not a leader.

What we should remember is that fans aren’t in the locker room. We aren’t on the bus rides or plane rides. Despite having unparalleled direct access to players through Twitter, Facebook, blogs and never satisfied traditional media we still don’t know what’s going on inside the locker room.

Coaches, GM’s and owners have come and gone, but the center from Ile Bizzard is still in the black and blue. And he’s still captain. If there was ever a chance to sweep the slate clean and appoint a new captain for the team it’s when you bring in a new GM, owner and coach. Yet Vinny still wears the “C”.

Why? Well, why not? If the players had a problem with it they would have addressed it by now. Perhaps, behind closed doors, Lecavalier is more of a leader than he lets on. Perhaps his bland quotes to the media and quiet persona mask an extremely driven man who has earned the respect of his players. Think of all of the players that have cycled through the Lightning organization during his tenure. How many of them have said bad things about him? I couldn’t find any quotes.

Now with all of that being said (the writers equivalent of “with all due respect”) Vincent has to perform on the ice. He is the highest paid player in the league. Let that sink in for a second. It’s not Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Marty Brodeur - it’s Vincent Lecavalier. He of the back to back underachieving seasons.

For $10 million the Lightning are going to need him to step up in the scoring department. Seventy points is not acceptable for that type of money. Does he have to score 50 goals? Not necessarily. However, if he doesn’t put the puck in the net he better be helping his linemates do it.

In the past the Lightning have struggled to fill two lines. Moving wingers from one line to another always weakened the other. This year it shouldn’t be the case. All six members have the ability to score 25+ goals. Shuffling them back and forth won’t allow other teams to focus on one line; and that means Vincent should be happy.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the big name player brought in during the off-season is a French Canadian. It might seem like a little thing, but it could be important to Lecavalier. Having someone else in the locker room that he can communicate in his native language might relax him. It’s speculation, but if it helps then it shows Mr. Yzerman has an astute read on his mercurial center.

The GM has done an excellent job of silencing the “trade vinny” rumors that have floated like a cloud of toxic gas around Channelside Drive for the last few years. For some reason hearing Mr. Yzerman declare that Lecavalier is not on the block is much more reassuring then listening to those-that-must-not-be-named say it last year.

It will be critical for him to get off to a good start. Last season he struggled out of the gate a bit and it ate at his confidence. Enough so that he even admitted to the press that he was gripping the stick a little too tight. Normally, you can’t read anything from his comments to the press (if you can even find them in an article) so for him to admit he was pressing shows how much it bothered him.

The organization has done what it can to make sure he is in the right place. Now it’s on his shoulders to reward their loyalty by righting his career and reestablishing himself as an offensive force.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Season Preview Rolls On

Part II of the Lightning Season Preview. If you missed part I (how dare you!) click here :

Lightning Season Preview Part I

No Win Situation:

Oh Mr. Stamkos. You’ve had a good year haven’t you? Your first NHL trophy, your first scoring title, your first Vanity Fair photo shot, and you’ve won the hearts of Lightning fans all over the world. So what’s the reward for all of those kudos? How about your first no win situation.

If he scores 50 goals this year then it’s not that big of deal, one might say it’s even expected. After all, he’s going to have a stable line this year (or at least as stable as Guy Boucher’s system allows - which it sounds like might be as chaotic as the previous regime’s), the power play is already being touted as the best in the league and there is a coach that wants to play an up-tempo offensive style. Heck, he should score 70 this year!

If, for some reason, he doesn’t hit the magic mark then the cynics will wonder if last year was a fluke. If he scores 40, then the question will be why did he back track? God forbid if he doesn’t get at least 40. I guarantee that if he slumps coming out of the gate there will be at least one column penned about him being a “one year wonder”.

Honestly, at this point I don’t think he’ll net 50 goals. I do think he’ll be in the mid to high 40’s, but for all of the reason’s I mentioned in the second paragraph he won’t hit the magic number. Let’s face it, there are only so many goals to go around. Newcomer Simon Gagne will take his fare share on the power play as should Pavel Kubina. Since Vincent seems to have his head on straight look for him to tack on another 10 goals or so to his total.

Stamkos is now a marked man. Teams are going to start marking him a bit closer on the power play. All of the room that he had in that circle last year is going to rapidly diminish. He will be seeing more of the top defensive pairs as well so that’s going to hurt him during even strength play.

The good news is that he is still learning and growing stronger. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that he’s not even allowed to drink a beer in the U.S. yet. At 20 years-old he hasn’t developed into the player he’s going to be. There is so much more ahead of him. Right now he’s getting by on natural talent, once his knowledge increases, once he has a veteran’s understanding of how the game is played he will be truly dangerous.

So fans, don’t be hard on the young kid. Let him develop at his own pace. And if he scores 50 goals celebrate like you did last year.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tampa Bay Season Preview Part One

Great is not enough

Lofty goals set by a first year coach. If he’s a mad genius or a crazy-eyed lunatic hasn‘t been determined yet. Guy Boucher’s ability to coach in the NHL is a blank slate. His success at the lower levels has been well documented. Will that change when the young guys desperate for a chance to play at the next level are replaced by millionaires coasting on past accomplishments? The Lightning players have nothing but positive things to say after the preseason. However, the players also raved about the previous coach during his early months as well.

The future is murky for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the light seems to be starting to shine through. New blood has been brought in off the ice and on the ice. New GM Steve Yzerman has earned kudos throughout the league and the web-o-sphere for his moves in rebuilding the team. Boucher and his untested 1-3-1 system have everyone (including me) giddy with the anticipation of seeing a ferocious fore-checking squad that out hustles every team it plays. Will playing in Tampa turn into Three Periods of Hell for opposing teams?

That remains to be seen, after all they still have to play the games. What looks good on paper has to be good on the ice. New winger Simon Gagne has to stay healthy and spark Vincent Lecavalier’s resurgence. The new blue liners have to actually block the shots they’re being brought in to block. Marty St Louis has to earn the big money he resigned for by continuing his consistent consistency.

With that being said, the playoffs are not out of the question. Winning the division might be a stretch, but it’s not hard to picture the Lightning as one of the 8 best teams in the Eastern Conference. Now I could give you a standard pre-season preview of the team, but I’d rather not. Instead, over the next week I’ll post a couple of key storylines to watch during the season.

Hope you enjoy.

Hey Don’t Forget About Me!

Let’s run down Ryan Malone’s off-season. He was rumored to be traded to Toronto for much of the summer. Then he lost his number to the Lightning’s shiniest new toy, Simon Gagne, and, oh by the way, lost his position on the right wing of Vincent Lecavalier’s line. With Guy Boucher’s system that last one might not mean that much as all of the forwards will rotate throughout the different positions during their shift. Still, it hasn’t been pretty for the Pittsburgh native who has scored a total of 47 goals for the Lightning in the last two season.

While much of the press has focused Steven Stamkos, Marty St Louis, Lecavalier, Gagne and Steve Downie, Malone has found himself as a bit of an afterthought. For someone who was tied for the team lead with 7 game winning goals last season that has to be a bitter pill to swallow.

Part of that could be because of the way he ended last season. After a red hot start he faded in the second half of the season, just when the Bolts were making their unsuccessful playoff run. He battled injuries for most of the second year How bad was the second half of the year? He only scored two goals in 2010 and none since January 21st.

He also seems to be an odd fit for Boucher’s puck pursuit style of offense. Malone isn’t the fastest skater. His defensive work can be questionable at best and he’s not the best passer on the team. What he does well is plant himself in front of the net and create havoc for other team’s goaltenders. With that he still has value. The rest of the offensive stars are “skills” guys. They benefit from having a grinder, a rock in front of the net to redirect shots or stuff home rebounds.

How much ice time he sees will be determined by his efforts on the ice. Based on the new players brought in, Malone won’t be seeing much time on the first power play unit. His spot on Lecavalier’s line could be at risk if one of the wingers on the third line shows a bit of tenacity (I’m looking at you Dana Tyrell). It will be interesting to see how he responds. Under the previous regime he was penciled into one of the top lines and left alone. Now he’ll have to show that he can keep pace with the rest of the offense.

If he does then the Lightning have a bonafide chance of boasting six 20 goal scorers. If they do that, then the playoffs should be assured. Two big ifs, but it’s going to be fun to watch them try.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Winner

Wow, I'm really kind of slow at posting things aren't I?

Let's not keep the world in suspense any longer. The winner of my spur of the moment contest is none other than...

Captain Canuck.

Yes, the masked superhero from the north. Writer of not one, but two blogs. Commissioner of a Fantasy Hockey League and all around excellent trader wins with this entry:

Captain Canuck said...
after a tantrum, and his mum fixing his hair with a kleenex spit bath, little Steven finally relented to having his picture taken in the sweater Grandma made him.

What made this a winning entry?

I enjoyed the reference to the hair, the sweater and the use of the word "mum". We need to use that more in everyday life.

What did he win?

A hand signed card that I was able to procure during my unemployment last year. And maybe some other prizes I can dig up in the next week or so. The card will be sent to you and hopefully clear customs sometime before the playoffs start. Unfortunately, I no longer have a photo of it so maybe once he receives it he will be nice enough to post it :)

Congrats. Stay tuned there might be more contests (with things other than cards, Dani!)

So congrats Capt.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Winner Has Been Found

Negotiations are under way as to what the prize will be. Once the prize has been finalized a former announcement will be posted. Thank you to all of the contestents.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

If You Win It, Will They Come?

Via the Twitter:

THE_ADAM_JONES: If we were on the verge of clinching a playoff spot. How many fans would we have? Cause at the Trop there was about 1500 ppl. Ppl are pissed about 21 hours ago via Twitterrific

DAVIDprice14: Had a chance to clinch a post season spot tonight with about 10,000 fans in the stands....embarrassing about 21 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone

"Obviously we want to bring a championship to Tampa. And we'd like more than 12,000 to 15,000 to know about it." --Evan Longoria

12,466 - Monday Night’s Attendence

Where to start? Will it ever end? While it might just now be perking the national consciousness, the attendance issue for Tampa Bay Rays games has been a bone of contention in the TBA for years. Ever since they’ve started playing in the Dome the radio airwaves have been filled with excuses as to why no one goes to the game.

For those of you not familiar with the arguments they go as follows:

St Pete is too far away and hard to get to. I mean there’s a bridge to cross!

In this economy who can afford to go to games what with their $5.00 parking, $10 tickets and bring your own food policy.?

The Trop is dreary. There should be an outdoor stadium.

The team sucks, why should I pay my hard earned money to go watch a minor league team?

For the longest time that last excuse was the most compelling. It was the easiest to throw out there, and perhaps the most true. After all, the majority of fans in the TBA aren’t natural Rays fans. The baseball fans have moved from other parts of the country so they are Red Sox fans, Yankee fans, Orioles fans (at least I was) first and Rays fans second.

Why should they fork over money to see Felix Martinez throw a ball into the stands or Ten-Run Sturtze give up another homerun? When their team was in town they would go, but that was it. Because they’re not Ray’s fans they are not going to the Wednesday night tilt to watch a bunch of castoffs play against the Royals.

Since 2008, however, that argument has been invalid. The Rays are no longer the laughing stock of the league. They have emerged as a legitimate power not only in the AL East, but in all of the major leagues. Even better, they are a fun team to watch. They pitch well, the run well, they hit...well not all the time, but most of the time.

You can make an argument that they have a potential future Cy Young winner in David Price, a future Hall of Famer in Carl Crawford and one of the best young hitters/fielders in Evan Longoria. With their level of talent and relatively bargain basement payroll this team is the envy of all other teams in the league. If the Rays players played for New York or Boston you would hate them because of all of the air time they would get on ESPN, MLB Network and the other media outlets in the world.

Not only are they a fun team to watch they are primarily a home grown team. Look at the starting rotation. With the exception of Matt Garza, the other 4/5ths of their rotation are comprised of players drafted by the organization. They aren’t the Yankees or Red Sox bringing in talent from the outside. These are “Tampa Bay guys” for the lack of a better term.

That’s why you’re seeing some of the disappointment seep through from the players (and I mean disappointment the same way you’re parents did when they said “I’m not mad at you, I’m just disappointed”). There was always that feeling that if the team was better the fans would rally up and support them and make the Trop a fun place to play.

You saw it in 2008 in the playoffs. When that building is full of Rays fans it is loud. Sure the cowbells are somewhat annoying, but it’s better than dead silence. It’s better than sitting in the left field bleachers and hearing the beer guy shout out his wares behind 1st base (that’s a true story, Rays vs. Pirates four or five years ago. “BEER HERE!” reverberated throughout the stadium).

Now they’re winning, and winning on a consistent basis. The town should be excited for the team, they should be supporting the team and yet the players look up and see row upon row of empty seats. This site has decried the presence of front running fans in the past, but now it would be nice to see them show up. Bandwagon, true fans, other fans, serial killer clowns, anyone would be welcome in the stands.

The players have lived up to their end of the bargain. No one likes owners based on principle, but Stu Sternberg has kept his promise. He’s funded a winning team. When the critics declared he would gut the team after buying them he proved them wrong by escalating the payroll and keeping the young talent around. When Andrew Friedman made the case for dropping $8 million on a closer, Sternberg signed the check. Everyone has kept their end of the bargain but the fans. They have to go to the games.

Where’s Sternberg’s payback? It certainly hasn’t been in his wallet. While he might not be hemorrhaging money or collecting food stamps he isn’t seeing the return he would like for the investment that he put in. At the end of the day it is, after all, his signature on the paychecks - not the fans. He has to see some sort of financial incentive or he will find a more lucrative place to house his team.

According to the U.S. Census there are about 2.7 million people living in the Tampa Bay Area. The TBA generally comprises Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota, St Petersburg and the smaller surrounding cities like Brandon , Largo (LAR-GHETTO in the HOUSE!), and Dunedin. It’s hard to believe that out of that 2.7 million people there aren’t 150,000 folks dedicated enough to go to games on a regular basis.

Longoria and Price issued the appropriate apologies, but why should they have to? If they aren’t performing to par the fans have every right to criticize them. Can’t it work both ways? If the fans aren’t performing up to standard why shouldn’t the players be frustrated? Why do I ask so many questions in my posts?

Fans can’t have it both ways. If you say you won’t go because the team sucks, then you better go when they don’t suck. Simple isn’t it? If you don’t go then don’t get upset when the team is relocated to Las Vegas.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Quick Contest.

As i perused the internets at work this afternoon, on my 15 minute break of course, I stumbled across the below picture on Puck Daddy. It's everyone's favorite 51 goal scorer from Tampa Bay - Steven Stamkos.

The young center was part of a Vanity Fair photoshoot by Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Also involved in the netminders photo spread were Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins, Montreal's Mike Cammalleri, young defenseman Drew Doughty of the Kings and the Rangers Goalie, Henrik Lundqvist.

Does this mean the goalie who led the US to the 2010 Olympic Silver Medal is trading his pads for a new Nikon? Unfortunately for the rest of the NHL the answer is no. It's a one time promotion for the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer charity. The entire photo shoot is available at Check it out.

Because I have nothing out to write about today I figured I would jot down as many captions as I can think of in 5 minutes, a la Tosh.0

Here we go.....

My Name is Steven Stamkos and I approved this ad.

Hi. My name is Steven and I'm an Acquarias. I enjoy long walks on the beach, puppies and slap shots from the top of the circle.

I don't feel so good. Do I look a little pale?

Hey Vinny, I don't have to take my shirt offto get in a magazine.

Ryan, can I put my arm down. I think it fell asleep. It's all tingly.

You want to see my poker face? My p-p-p-poker face? (sorry)

That's all I got.

Now it's your turn. Best caption as voted by me and a select group of others will win something. I don't know what, but something. The winner will be announced friday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's That Time Again

Is that live hockey I spy? Why yes it is. Thanks to my love of bad TV I'm not able to watch the Lightning/Blackhawks preseason tilt, but I can listen to the subdued Dave Mishkin over the Internet while I post about something totally un-hockey related.

It's Mailbag Monday! But Justin, you say, it's not Monday. I know, but I didn't get to it on Monday. So you get it on Wednesday. Which is better than Monday - 'cause it's closer to Friday.

First up. Fellow blogger and trader Nachos Grande added to my Carl Crawford collection (a collection I've neglected a bit this year). In exchange for some Reds cards and Allen & Ginter that I didn't need he sent over a care package highlighted by this card.

It's blue and shiny. I like blue and shiny.

Being the kind blogger he is, he threw in some assorted O's cards. Gosh darn I love me that Don Aase '88 Topps. It's the entire junk wax era wrapped up in one card. Posed shot, awesome mustache, curly afro poking out of the cap. I love it.

I also like the Markakis card. He's staring off into the distance contemplating something. What could it be? Perhaps his inexplicable loss of power? How many cheeseburgers he can buy with one paycheck? We'll never know.

Moving on

Ebay provided the first of the next two lots.

Like I mentioned I've been neglecting my Crawford collection so I figured I'd go for the best deal I could find. I actually needed four of these cards and they became mine for less than $3.00 so, yea me. I also like the fact that he is wearing 5 different uniforms.

This last one was more of an impulse buy. Not sure why, but I have very few Brooks Robinson cards in my collection. I decided to rectify that. The cards aren't in the best condition, but they're mine and they're older then I am which is cool.

So there ya go. More thoughts on hockey later, oh by the way Simon Gagne scored for the Lightning while I was typing this. The Bolts might be feisty this year.