Friday, May 28, 2010

"Y" All the Excitement?

Most rebuilding projects start off with small key moves. Taking a chance on a goalie that missed a year due to a contract dispute. Or it can be a quiet move like picking up a talented defenseman who has worn out his welcome on another team for a fifth round pick. Maybe it’s the well traveled winger who has never won a Stanley Cup brought in to mentor a young club. It isn’t the banner is hung that you can look back at and find the moves that worked.

The 2004 Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lighting were one of those projects built by unheralded GM’s Rick Dudley and Jay Feaster. Will the very much heralded Steve Yzerman be able to duplicate that success? Time will only tell.

To say Yzerman comes from a winning organization is like saying the Blackhawks bandwagon is only slightly full. (Full disclosure, I wore a red polo to support the team at work today. I like to think of myself as a casual observer hanging onto the edge of the wagon – like the guy hanging onto the edge of the San Francisco streetcar.) He’s a three time Stanley Cup winner and holds the record for longest serving captain of a single team. He was named an all star 10 times, the Conn Smythe, Lester B Pearson, Selke and Masterson trophies all collect dust in his billiards room.

The most important thing he represents, along with owner Jeff Vinik, is normalcy. Fans in other markets might not realize how important that is to the organization and supporters. The Bolts aren’t a storied franchise. They are a team that plays in a non-traditional market. Not only that, but the majority of the fan base is comprised of people who root for other teams. Sure they had a nice run in the early 2000’s that culminated with that bad-ass banner that hangs in the Ice Palace, but for most of their tenure they’ve been known for the less than brilliant moments:

* When he was GM Phil Esposito never met with Takashi Okubo the man who ran the Japanese consortium that owned the team. It’s widely accepted that Okubo never saw the team play once in the ENTIRE SEVEN YEARS he owned the team.

* Esposito had female goaltender Manon Rheaume play in an exhibition game as a publicity stunt.

* Keeping things interesting was the saga of restricted free agent Chris Gratton.
After 1996-97 season Esposito tried to trade Gratton to Chicago for either money or players (according to the New York times the names Ethan Moreau and Keith Carney were bandied about). The NHL ruled that the trade was null and void because Gratton had signed an offer sheet from the Flyers before the trade had gone through. Esposito tried to say that the offer wasn’t valid because some numbers were “smudged” by the fax machine. His ploy didn’t work.

* The Bolts have played in an exhibition hall at the fairgrounds, a baseball stadium and a building in Tampa named for a newspaper from St Petersburg.

* Alex Selivanov, who married Esposito’s daughter, had his car repossessed from the team parking lot during a game.

* The Japanese sold the team to Art Williams for $117 million (roughly the same amount Vinik would pay for the team a decade later). The best part of the insurance magnate’s nine-month tenure as owner was his “dud or stud” speech about Vincent Lecavalier, who he also dubbed the future “Michael Jordan” of hockey.

* A period of stability would follow when Bill Davidson bought the team. The team won on the ice, but was much less interesting off the ice. Although Dan Boyle’s house did catch fire during the 2004 playoffs.

* The Clowns bought the team. I am from here on out never talking about those dark times in detail ever again. They will be known as the Dark Times. Due to this recently imposed ban I won’t talk about the GM who tried to trade a draft pick he didn’t own or that they demoted a well liked assistant coach during the only hot streak of the season. Or the Dan Boyle trade, or the botched Lecavalier trade, or the fact that the two owners didn’t talk to each other for the last year they owned the team.

So you can see why fans are a little giddy about the recent developments. With Vinik quietly showing that he is willing to invest in this team past the initial check he wrote, and Yzerman who was trained by the best organization in the league leading them, the turnaround could accelerate this season.

Unlike the Dark Time Cowboys, Yzerman’s first move was a quiet one. He signed young defenseman Mark Barberio to a three year entry level deal. Not quite the unfocused free agent frenzy fans were greeted with during the Clowns first off-season with the team.

The Red Wings have remained competitive through the years because of their ability to recognize talent at lower levels in the draft and the ability to manage their players under the cap. The Red Wings have maintained a high level of success despite not having a first round pick in the top 10 since 1991. In other words since the Bolts have been in the league. With the salary cap and a new CBA around the corner, drafting and developing your own players only gets more important.

Will this mean fans will have to support another summer of “Trade Vinny” rumors? Probably, after all what’s a summer in the TBA without trade rumors, hurricanes and dead fish on the beach? If he does feel the need to trade the face of the Lightning I think it will be done quickly and quietly.

The new Lightning organization seems to be hell-bent on secrecy as word on the street was that any contender for the GM job who talked about it would eliminated from consideration. The same seems to be the case for the head coach search.
Yzerman has a good foundation to build from. Now it’s time for him to find the quiet deals that transform teams into championships. What will it be?

Bonus Fact discovered during my lackluster research for this post. Twenty Four players were drafted in the first round of the 1992 draft. Twenty-five percent of them have played for the Lightning at some point during their career. Those six players:

Roman Hamrlik - #1
Todd Warriner - #3
Corey Stillman - #6
Robert Petrovicky - #9
Andrei Nazarov - #10
David Wilkie - #20

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Quick Hits

So just a quick post as I'm waiting for my roommate to get home so we can head to the Cubs game.

1. I have thoughts on the Lightning signing Steve Yzerman as their GM. Lot's of thoughts - mostly good - but I haven't had time to organize them and put them to paper. Maybe tomorrow.

2. Carl Crawford and Joe Maddon got themselves thrown out of a game Tuesday night. Normally, I support the umpires, but in my opinon Bob Davidson overreacted a bit. From the replays I saw any contact was either mutal or miniscule. I think Davidson was having a bad day at the plate, Crawford called it on him and the ump lost it for a bit. I would be extremely surprised if there are any suspensions.

3. The Blackhawks will have their work cut out for them against the Flyers. Philly is the most physical team they will have faced in the playoffs and will make Antti Niemi's life a living hell. However, if the Flyers go to far and start taking penalties, the Hawks can make them pay.

4. If the Flyers win, will Marion Hossa's streak of being on 3 consecutive Stanley Cup Finals losing teams be a record?

5. Is the previous questions the most awkward sentence ever posted on this site?

6. Brian Matusz hasn't won since I made the comment on how promising his season had started...jinx!

7. Ty Wigginton is the O's MVP so far. He didn't have a position coming into the season. What contender is going to be looking for a corner/utility infielder come deadline time?

That's all for now. More to come soon - including a Through The Mail autograph!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Another Town....Another ?

So I was sitting in the sports bar at the Tampa airport waiting for my flight. Two and half days with my girlfriend back in my condo wasn't long enough. Fifteen minutes are left in the third period of the Blackhawks/Sharks game. Chicago, holding a commanding 3-0 lead in the series, had scrambled back to tie the game at 2.

My phone buzzes, Southwest was letting me know that my flight had been delayed till 7.30. Sweet now I get to see the end of the game (hopefully). Barkeep - another Makers and Coke this way, my friend!

The Hawks are buzzin' in the zone, at the table next to me a middle aged man sits with his wife, his thinning hair is covered by a red Blackhawks cap. Behind me a couple of youngin's in their 20's wear red shirts adorned with an Indian mascot.

Dustin Byfuglien creates havoc in front of the net simply by standing there. The pucks comes his way, he flicks his stick at it, Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is reaching behind him, the puck is in the net.

All of us cheer, I can't help myself, I will cheer the Lightning till I die, but for the next two weeks I'm a Blackhawks fan. Now five minutes are left on the clock, the slightly inebriated gentleman to my left in the Innesbrook cap mentions that an empty netter would be nice.

The next four minutes are are tense, the Sharks are buzzing in the zone. A couple of shots head toward Chicago goalie Antei Niemi - none get past. My phone buzzes again, Southwest says my flight is back to 6.30 pm. Were the pilots watching the game?

With less then two minutes left Nabokov skates to the bench and the Sharks have the extra skater. With 50 seconds left Kris Versteeg, who if you believe the rumor mill was almost a member of the Lightning, pokes at a loose puck and it heads toward the empty net. No one can catch it and it crosses the goal line. The red light goes off, Chelsea Dagger blasts over the loudspeaker and the Madhouse on Madison erupts.

At the bar I jump from my seat and high five the stranger next to me, he is grinning like a four year old with a new bike. His wife is happy, but looks a little bewildered.

I slam two fives on the bar and head to my gate in time to make the flight. I'm heading to my new home and the Blackhawks are heading to the Stanley Cup.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chicago Photo Two


Today's photo is from the Old Water Tower on Michigan Ave. Located at the north end of the "Miracle Mile" the building is one of the few that survived the Chicago Fire of 1871. The building usually hosts a free photographic exhibit that changes every few months. Since it was free it was right up our alley.

To get inside we had to dodge 8-10 protesters who had gathered to complain about the treatment of the animals used for the carriages that gather around the block. While I was walking around the building looking for a way in I watched a hipster protester chase a carriage screaming "Shame on You! Shame on You!" before dropping a homosexual slur on the driver. Crazy hippies.

Once inside Hamel and I weren't too impressed with the current exhibit, but I did notice a couple of old water fountains that were adorned with lion heads. I snapped a couple of photos before I heard the rent-a-guard warn a couple about the "no photography" policy. Whoops, must of missed that on the way in.

The Chicago Water Tower is located on Michigan Ave between Chicago and Pearson Street. It's about two blocks south of the John Hancock Building. Admission is free, exhibits rotate every few months.

Oh well!
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Look Who Got Mail!

After a brief one day standoff the U.S Postal Service resumed delivering mail to our apartment building this week. While rain,sleet, nor snow or dead of night will deter them from delivering mail, apparently a broken buzzer will. So on Monday and again on Thursday I had a couple of treats waiting for me after a laborious day at work.

One from a fellow blogger and one from eBay.


First up - a dark blue sweater from Co-Richard Trophy winner Steven Stamkos. It's a really nice piece from Spicolli's jersey and I appreciate that it isn't white or black like most Lightning relics. The card came from hockey card enthusiast and sure to be nervous Bruin fan Shane over at Shoebox Legends.

It's funny how card karma works. Before I headed up north I saw a cheap Bruins patch card and sent his way. He didn't have anything in return which I didn't care about, but low and behold he busts a box of UD Champs and there is young master Stamkos sitting all alone. Thanks Shane!

Card number two is from the 'Bay. Bored at home due to a depleted checking account I went surfing for some card relief the other day. Lucky for me there is still a few bucks in the ol' Paypal fund so I swooped in on an auction that was ending and ended up with a pretty nice looking card.

It is a 2005-06 (I think) UD Artifacts Treasured Swatches of the Captain - Vincent Lecavalier. It's numbered to 275 to boot! Look at the hopeful, almost joyful expression on his face. It's nice to remember the good times, before the Matt Cooke hit, before the trade rumors, before the circus came to town.

How long till next season?

There ya go, a couple of cards for the collection.
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Sunday, May 9, 2010

What’s a Postseason Without a Preseason Review?

It’s been an interesting week in Chicago. After a hint of spring the weather has turned a bit dreary over the last few days. The clouds have rolled in and the winds have picked up. The press reveled in the dismissal of Bulls Coach Vinny Del Negro and warily stepped on the Blackhawks bandwagon. A crazy boyfriend walked into an Old Navy next to my CTA stop and shot his girlfriend and then himself Friday morning. And to top it off the Chief Executive of the METRA system left his family a suicide note and then stepped in front of train.

Life in the city is nothing if not interesting. On top of that my roommate and I finally scraped together some extra money to order the Extra Innings package so I get to watch the O’s on the TV! As usual, just as I write them off they show signs of life. Offense – check. Relief pitching – check. Swept the Red Sox – check.

With their better play (two in a row!) I figure I’ll let them be for this posting. No need to reverse the reverse jinx. Instead let’s go ahead and continue a tradition that I started on the previous blog – the annual review of my preseason NHL predictions. As usual it’s comprised mostly of picks gone horribly wrong, which is why you shouldn’t take stock in anything I write.

Here’s the original post from October post from October . Gosh I was really optimistic about the team back then. So let’s take a look to see how I did.

The Bolts Should Post Better Numbers With Their Strengthened Defense

They did end up with a better record (34-36-12) and gave up fewer goals (260 goals allowed in 2009-10 as opposed to 279 in 2008-09). However, those numbers are a bit deceiving. Antero Niittymaki’s heroics in net were more responsible for the 19 fewer goals allowed then any accomplishment from the group of blueliners in front of him. Despite their overall lack of cohesiveness there were some bright spots. Kurtis Foster showed that he is recovered from the horrific leg injury he suffered two seasons ago. His presence at the point on the power play, the fear of his glass-breaking slap shot, created a lot of room for Steven Stamkos. Hopefully, resigning him is a priority for whatever GM takes over the team.

Mike Lundin finally made it back to the big club and showed a lot of maturity. After struggling last season to find the consistency that he had displayed in his rookie season, he was the most consistent defenseman for the team for most of the season. Vic Hedman showed flashes of greatness and flashes of being a rookie. There was a nice stretch in February where every mistake he made ended up in the back of the net. He should learn a lot from this season and be even more effective next season.

I grade this as a win.

Goaltending Will Go As Far As Mike Smith’s Head Will

Smith lost his number one status as the Lightning goalie. He allowed the most goals he ever has in a season. He battled bouts of inconsistency and was run over in practice by one of his own players. Basically he did nothing to convince the fans that he is the goalie of the future. Without a consistent presence in net the Lightning floundered early and late in the season. Combined with their underachieving defense and one line scoring threat they fell out of the playoff race after the Olympic break and had to win their last three games to avoid a top three pick in the draft. Next season could see wunderkind Dustin Tokarski in net in place of Smith.

This too is a win.

Overall, I See Them Finishing Anywhere From 8th-10th in the Eastern Conference

I was close on this one as they finished tied for 11th. Of course, it took the aforementioned 3 game winning streak to get that far up in the standings. Like I said I was optimistic in the fall. Were there signs back then that pointed to the team underachieving like they did? Probably, but don’t forget that as late as January they were in sixth place and looking like a lock to make the playoffs.

Stupid Olympic break!

This is a loss.

So for the Lightning I finished 2-1. A couple of the other observations – Zenon Kenopka did not get into 81 fights, but he did break the Lightning season record for penalty minutes while being involved in a bizarre non-trade at the deadline. Only the Lightning would try to trade a pick that they didn’t actually have. For the record I would have been extremely perturbed by this move. While Zeke might be known for his willingness to drop the gloves he was also an effective forechecker and a pretty good face-off man. His 62.3 winning percentage would have led the league if he had enough draws to qualify. To trade him for a one-dimensional player would have been sheer lunacy.

I also said something about Steve Stamkos giving the Lightning a solid second line. If only the first line had shown up last season. Let’s not relive that part of the season please.

On to the other predictions.

The Pens Will Not Repeat As Stanley Cup Champions

The playoffs aren’t over yet and the Penguins are still alive. If they were to win their series with the Canadians then they would have home ice in the Eastern Conference finals against Boston or Philadelphia. While I think they will advance in the east, I don’t think they have the firepower to keep up with Chicago or San Jose in the west. So far Montreal has given them everything they can handle and the Habs don’t have half the firepower of ‘Hawks and Sharks.

To Be Determined

Dany Heatley = Success, Marion Hossa = Trade

Heatley finished with 39 goals and 82 points playing most of the season with Joe Thornton and the Sharks seem to have finally found some success in the playoffs. So I got that part of the equation correct. I think I whiffed a bit on the Hossa side.

The Slovakian forward might have a woman’s name, but he played a man’s game this year. He potted 24 goals in only 57 games during the regular season, but saved his most important goal for the postseason. His game five overtime tally broke the Predators backs in the first round, especially since he had spent the previous four minutes reflecting on a dubious boarding call.

I give myself a half a win.

The Coyotes will draft first.

By far this is my largest gaffe of the season. I guess I had assumed that all teams with ownership issues would underperform like the Lightning. Coach Dave Tippet should be awarded this year’s and next year’s Jack Adams award for the coaching job he did this season. Their success drives home the importance of having a strong goalie between the pipes. Ilya Bryzgalov had a career year posting 42 wins and a 2.29 GAA. At 30, the Russian netminder is just entering his prime and should keep the Coyotes in contention no matter what city they call home next season.
For the record the Coyotes are drafting 25th.

This is a big ol’ loss.

The Lightning Will Not Send James Wright back to Juniors.

This looked pretty well for most of the season. He made it past the 10 game mark where teams can send a player back to his junior team without it costing them a year of NHL service time. The 2008 4th round pick was an early surprise making the team straight out of training camp. Through the first month of the season he played well and even spent some time on Vincent’s line (of course everyone on the team did at some point). It seemed like a lock that he would spend the entire season with the big club.

Then on January 21st the Lightning announced that he was going to be sent back to the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. “Killer” had developed quite a fan base in the TBA so it was a bit of a shock that the team would send him down after he had spent so much time in the league. Was it fair? Probably, he had been struggling on the ice and he gained valuable playoff time with the Giants. Also, he got to avoid the chaos that was the Lightning organization over the last three months of the season.
This is a loss.

My Personal Plus/Minus would be -15.

It was looking soooooo good for a while. Into late January I was actually even and the Lightning offense was starting to pick up. Then the slide happened. For whatever reason the Bolts forgot they were in a playoff race and started giving up goals left and right. I believe I finished at a -23 or -24, I can’t remember and I left the sheet at home. It was bad no matter what the actual number was. Bummer.

This too is a loss.

Another season and another bad list of predictions. What can I say? Enjoy the rest
of the playoffs folks!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chicago Photo One


I finally took my camera with me to work today. It was a bit cooler than I had anticipated so I didn't take that many photos, but I did take one of an old, unused railroad bridge near work.

I don't know how many of these I'm going to post, but hopefully y'all like them.
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