Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Back To Hockey

There are several ways for teams to improve down the home stretch.  The most notable is to pull off a big trade that brings in a player to fill a specific need.  A team could also call up a young prospect to provide a spark in the clubhouse.  Or, they could just get healthy.  As the Tampa Bay Lightning return to action Tuesday night we’ll see how option three works.

The game against the Capitals will feature the return of Ryan Shannon, Tom Pyatt and Victor Hedman.  Depending on what line-up Coach Boucher goes with J.T. Wyman could also return to action.  While Shannon and Pyatt will add some experience to the bottom two lines the Lightning should see the biggest impact from Hedman.

Adding a player capable of playing 20+ minutes, who can move the puck out of the zone smoothly and provide a physical presence in front of the net would probably cost GM Steve Yzerman at least a first round draft pick or a top prospect.  With Hedman’s return the team gets that player for nothing.
"Crosby Shirtless" led to more page hits, hopefully "Hedman shirtless" works too!

The Big Swede has missed more than a month with a concussion, and I think there is always some concern with a player returning from a head injury (exhibit number one – Sidney Crosby).  That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coach Boucher throw him right into the fire especially with Marc-Andre Bergeron out with an injury.  Hedman should jump immediately to one of the top four pairings and ease some of the minutes that Bruno Gervais and Brendan Mikkelson have been logging.

Hedman has seen his production dip this season, logging only 6 points in 32 games, but is still the foundation for the future of the Lightning defense. At a listed 6’6”, 220 lbs Hedman is a big presence on the ice.  He is strongest when he is playing a positional game, despite his size and to the consternation of fans he’s not a big hitter. What he is, is a smooth skater who can accelerate the puck through the neutral zone and transition from defense to offense better than any other blue-liner on the team. It does seem that he doubts his talents from time to time and makes mistakes when he tries to be too cautious.

Despite his occasional gaffes, adding Hedman to the lineup should help the Lightning continue their current improved play.  During their 4-game winning streak their goals against is 2.25, more than an entire goal below their season average of 3.28.  Part of that is due to Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson playing better between the pipes, but the team as a whole has been playing better.

Much like last season, everyone is starting to chip in.  Out of the 15 goals scored during the winning streak, only two belong to Steven Stamkos.  When names like Purcell, Angelidis, Thompson and Moore are showing up in the box score it’s a sign that the team is returning to the “pack mentality” that Coach Boucher likes to talk about to the press. 

They will definitely need to keep it going during the next two weeks.  Nine of their next 11 games are at home and eight of them are against Eastern Conference foes.  Of those eight teams only the Sabres are currently lower in the standings then the Lightning.  This stretch will determine whether or not the Bolts are going to seriously contend for the playoffs.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Night Product Preview - Heroes and Prospects

The NHL All-Star game just ended and with that, my self-imposed break from posting. Actually, it was self-imposed because I was extremely lazy this week.  Now it’s time to get back behind the wheel and drive this thing home. There should be plenty of posts spanning all sports to keep y’all somewhat entertained throughout the week.  Or, at the very least, kill five minutes of your work day.

First up, we’ll start up with a product preview.  I might not have the funds to buy any new product, but that doesn’t mean I can’t let you know what is out there.  Up for preview today the 2011-12 version of ITG’s Heroes and Prospects set.   I’ve lamented the fact that In The Game doesn’t hold an NHL license in the past.  By focusing on prospects and players in the junior leagues they can skip over that handicap and produce what I think is the best product in their portfolio

Heroes and Prospects has a simple 200 card base set and a plethora of inserts and autographs of younger players, many of whom have yet to make their impact on the NHL.  This year’s base set is broken up into a couple of different categories:

-          Heroes – 7 cards featuring NHL players that have graduated from the junior leagues ranging from Tony Amonte to Red Kelly

-          International – ITG cherry picked 3 international prospects and gave them cards. If you’re a fan of Adam Larsson, Mika Zibanejad or Vladimir Tarsenko be sure to pick up their cards from this set

-          CHL Prospects/Rookies – The best players in the CHL are on display here.  Think Dougie Hamilton, Malcolm Subban, potential #1 pick Nail Yakupov, etc

-          AHL Prospects/Rookies – Same as above just featuring players in the AHL such as Nazem Kadri, Kyle Palmieri and Brayden Schenn.

-          AHL/CHL Grads – This subset is composed of current NHL’s in their minor league uniforms.  So if you wanted a card of Ryan Miller as a Rochester American or Logan Couture as an Ottawa 67 this is where you would find one.

-          Tribute Card – Four cards dedicated to players that passed away this year (Luc Bourdon, Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard, and Wade Belak).

Since I know some Lightning fans are reading this by accident, let me answer your number one question.  There are two Lightning prospects in this set.

Card 41 – Vladislav Namestnikov

Card 141- Carter Ashton

Namestnikov also gets an autograph card in this set whereas Ashton is featured in a non-memorabilia subset with his father Brent. The “Family Ties” subset doesn’t have a Michael Gross/Michael J Fox card, but it does celebrate the family tradition that runs throughout the history of hockey. So if you’re a Subban fan feel free to pick up the card featuring P.K., Malcolm and Jordan. Former Lightning goaltender Sean Burke also has a card with his son Brendan.

In searching for Lightning players in this set I’ve noticed that most of the prospects for the team are already skating in Norfolk (Ashton, Tyler Johnson, Dustin Tokarski), overseas (Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov) or are in college (Alex Killorn, James Mullin). That leaves some slim pickings for a set like this.

Design-wise the base cards are pretty simple.  Normally it’s an action shot of the player in his junior or minor league uniform against a non-descript background.  This year’s set seems to have a gold background with the a close-up of the players face while a blue strip down the left hand side bears the team name.  The players name and position are centered along the bottom of the card in white. 

ITG hasn’t listed their insert sets that feature memorabilia, but from the sell sheet it looks like there will be plenty to choose from. Single swatches to quad switches are littered throughout the set. Perhaps my favorite will be the “Net Prospects” which feature large pieces of uniforms from up-and-coming goalies.  What can I say, I like puck stoppers.

Based on some of the pre-sell information it does look like ITG will be welcoming Gordie Howe back into the fold. Mr. Hockey’s exclusive contract with Upper Deck has expired so it appears his autograph and memorabilia cards will be appearing in ITG and Panini brands this year.
Yes Please! Photo lifted from Canada Card World

The release date is set for 2/23/12 and online retailers show a price of about $78 per box.  Each box will feature 18 packs with 9 cards in each pack.  For $80 a collector can expect to pull about 6 hits from each box.  Keep in mind ITG considers their non-memorabilia inserts as a “hit”. It usually breaks down to 2 autographs, 2 relics and 2 other inserts.

This set tends to skew towards player collectors and prospectors. The autographs and relic cards tend to be a little cheaper on the secondary market than their licensed NHL counterparts so if you’re looking to pick up an affordable auto of a young player this is a good place to start.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Seventeen Things Better Than The Ravens Loss

Superman Smith breaks the goaline. Photo by David Butler II, US Presswire

So far 2012 isn’t treating my favorite teams any better than 2011.  Last year the Tampa Bay Lightning were one goal away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. Liverpool was horrendous, sacked their coach and sold off their most prolific scorer while barely qualifying for the Europa League (European soccer’s version of the NIT). Now, as the opening month of 2012 draws to a close I have to watch a field goal sail wide of its intended target costing the Ravens a shot at the Super Bowl.

What Went Wrong On Billy Cundiff’s Missed Kick?

I'm going to say the part where it didn't go through those yellow things
The above comment was posted on a deadspin article that broke down Billy Cundiff’s failed attempt to tie the game against the Patriots on Sunday.  It literally made me laugh out loud. Literally. I guess that means the healing process is well under way.  The stages as the happened:

1.       Joy – the football in Lee Evans hands.

2.       Surprise- The ball falling out of Evans hands.

3.       Dealmaking – Chip shot field goal ties the game, 50/50 chance in overtime.

4.       Shock – Football sails wide, CBS cuts to Terrell Suggs saying “Oh My God”.  (Seriously, that was an awesome piece of camera work.  Kudos.)
Totally stole this from Kissing Suzy Kolber

5.       Morose Mother F*cker – Walked back to the apartment in the chilly Chicago rain. If I had my iPod, Bill Withers would havebeen playing (probably the BB King version)

6.       ALCOHOL! – Good friend Hamel comes through with tickets to see Buddy Guy play at his club downtown.  Blues and beers perfect for getting over the loss. Legends is a bit touristy (I prefer Kingston Mines), but to watch a master craftsman tear up a stage at 75-years old is awesome. I’ll be lucky to get out of bed when I’m that age.

7.       Sleep – Nothing better than a good 7 hours of sack time.

8.       Laughter – Sure the jokes are at the Ravens expense, but they’re still funny.

9.       Writing – I guess that’s part of the reason why I write.  Helps get the sad out.

So that’s where I’m at right now.  By the way, in regards to point number two, I don’t think Lee Evans caught the ball.  It should have been reviewed, but I don’t think that would have changed the outcome.  It just didn’t seem like a catch, but at the same time it wasn’t a drop.  It was a great defensive play by Sterling Moore.  Moving on (as I’m sure Lee Evans will be in the off-season).

I could remember this season for the disappointment of being so close to the Super Bowl, but instead I think I’d rather remember the good things:

1.       The Week One curbstomping of the Steelers.

2.       The first quarter of the Rams game when Flacco to Smith was unleashed and millions of fantasy footballers rushed to their computers to pick Torrey Smith up on waivers.

3.       The second half comeback against the Cardinals

4.       Flacco to Smith to beat the Steelers in Week Nine.

5.       Being part of the 71,000 strong cheering for the Ravens on Thanksgiving.

6.       The Week 17 win in Cincinnati to clinch a home field playoff game.

7.       The Bernie Pollard to Jimmy Smith interception against Brady.

8.       Flacco to Dennis Pitta all season long made losing Todd Heap a little easier to take.

9.       The absurdity of “Ball So Hard University” and Joe Flacco skateboarding.

10.   Flacco’s mustache.

11.   The maturation of Lardarius Webb.

12.   Learning to spell “Lardarius”.

13.   Ray Lewis, a step slower, but still one of the best.

14.   My cousin’s slightly insane Ravens-related Facebook posting.

15.   My niece’s “Go Way-Bins” cheers.

16.   Did I mention the Steelers beat down?

17.   John Harbaugh with a cut in his chin quotingTeddy Roosevelt.

So I guess my point is that there was a lot of good in the 2011-12 Ravens season. I’ll be trying to ignore the NFL for the next two weeks, mainly because I don’t need to hear about the Patriots wanting revenge for the next fourteen days.  Besides the Lightning are fighting for their playoff lives, and that’s way more interesting than Skip Bayliss yelling at a TV camera.

I will throw one more football post up a couple of days before the Super Bowl.  After all, the gamblers need to know who to bet on, right?  Heck, maybe Link and I will even break down some of the prop bets for you as well. Till then, it’ll be more hockey and sports cards, yea! 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Get Your Short Term Investments In!

OK. Here we go! I know all of you sharps out there have been waiting for our NFL Conference Round predictions so that you can get your bets in.  I must say, both Link and I redeemed ourselves a bit in the Divisional round as we both went 3-1 against the spread and I pulled a 2-2 straight up (Link only gave me his numbers against the spread).  So for the playoffs he is at 1-3 straight up and 5-3 against the spread.  I’m at 4-4 against the spread and 3-5 straight up.  Both of our records are respectable with a chance to finish over .500 by the end of the Super Bowl.

Now onto this week.  As always the lines are from vegasinsider.com and represent what the betting opened up at.

Baltimore at New England (-7.5)

Link is taking the favorite and based on his final score prediction of 38-22 it looks like he thinks New England will be able to score on the Ravens defense.

For me, this is a tough one.  Everywhere I look people are picking the Patriots.  Most New England fans are already talking about how they are looking forward to getting revenge on the Giants in the Super Bowl.  Their main reasons are pretty sound:

1.       New England has an unstoppable offense

2.       Joe Flacco can’t beat them

To that I say “Poppycock!”

I’m going full-on Ravens fan here and consequences be damned. The Patriots offense is the best in the league, but it can be slowed down.  Pittsburgh was able to do it as were Giants and the Cowboys.  Throughout the season New England threw up a lot of points on a lot of crappy defenses.  The only top five defenses (based on yardage allowed) that they faced were the Steelers, Jets and Eagles.  Baltimore finished the season ranked third in yardage allowed (288.9) and points allowed (16.6).

I like those numbers for the Ravens.  Of course, the key is going to be putting pressure on Tom Brady, which isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do.  It’s hard for pass rushers to get to him since they rely on a lot of quick routes.  I think you’ll see the Ravens try and press the big three receivers (Hernandez, Welker and Gronkowski) at the line of scrimmage to throw the timing off on their routes.

If they are able to do that, it should give Terrell Suggs time to wreak havoc in the backfield. What Suggs and the rest of the team has to focus on is staying disciplined.  So far this year they’ve done a great job of not taking stupid penalties that extend drives for their opponents.  Going into the game they have to know that the refs will frown on anytime rough tactics visited upon Brady and his cohorts so they have to keep their emotions in check. 

Along with the pressure in the backfield they also need their secondary to make some plays.  Ed Reed, Jimmy Smith, Bernie Pollard, and Cary Williams have to have their best game of the season. They have to know when to go for the pick (which seems to be always) and when to know play the man to prevent the big play.  If they keep the receivers in front of them they can make the Patriots work for every yard. 

As for Joe Flacco.  We’ve had a season of Good Flacco/ Bad Flacco.  Hopefully this game sees the return of Good Flacco.  That’s the rub, they don’t need Great Flacco to win this game.  He doesn’t have to throw for 400 yards and 6 touchdowns.  An average day of 250yrds and 2 touchdowns will probably be good enough to win.  The key to winning will be Flacco being good enough to take the pressure off of Ray Rice.  If he makes enough completions down the field, it’ll force the Patriots to respect the pass and give Rice enough room to make his magic work.

I think the Ravens get physical early, get a defensive touchdown and pull off the upset.

Ravens 27, Patriots 24

New York at San Francisco (-2.5)

Link has the Giants pulling out ahead in a low scoring game, 17-6.
Link had San Fran winning 23-17.  Not sure how I misread the text that badly.
I’m not going to lie, I’m thinking along the same lines.  With the beatdown the Giants put on the Packers last week I’m kind of surprised that the 49er’s are favored.  There has been some late money coming in on the Giants that has pushed the line down to 2 in some casino’s which might indicate the public likes New York’s front seven against the Alex Smith.

By the same token I think San Francisco’s defense is going to present a challenge for Eli and the boys in blue.  As I mentioned last week, the 49er’s like picking the ball off.  They used that to their advantage last week against the Saints and I think it will be a factor this week as well.  However, Eli finds a way to win despite having horrible stats.

Giants 19, 49er’s 10

Friday, January 20, 2012

A TTM Braves A Chicago Snowstorm

As I type this up it appears the Florida Panthers bus is having issues making it to the United Center.  Such trouble that the start of the game is actually being delayed. Needless to say we're getting a pretty nice weather event up here in the Windy City.  Nothing like ThunderSnow, but still a pretty good accumalation is going on out there.

Speaking of South Florida, my buddy Hambone is flying up from the Pyscho state, he just boarded the plane in Miami and is hoping that he's actually able to land. He's only about 2 hours behind his original scheduled landing time which is kind of a surprise for O'Hare. Normally they would have shut the airport down for the day by now.

The Duchess worked from home today - no way that Florida is girl is ready to be driving in this mess. From what I've seen on the news sites in regards to the highways around the city - it was an excellent idea. We did go wandering down to Trader Joes for some dinner fixin's (didn't want to make some poor delivery guy ride his bike in this mess) and I think she enjoyed her first city walk in a snow storm.

When we got back I saw that I had a small little envelope with my address label on it.  TTM success! It also came from South Florida.

If I didn't know his name, I would have guessed "John Ell" based on his signature

Jacob Markstrom turned this baby around in a little more than two weeks, guess he had some free time due to his knee injury.  The signature is a little scribbled, but looks nice on the clean, white Score card.

Time to crack another beer and watch the cars slide there way along Belmont Ave! Thanks for the card, Mr. Markstrom!

Who or What is an Evan Oberg?

“1/19/2012” – Tampa Bay Lightning recall D Evan Oberg from Norfolk of the American Hockey League”

To most it was hardly a transaction of much notice.  Most likely it appeared on the page in the sports section that is crammed with scores from high school basketball games and the leader board from the first round of the PGA’s Humana Challenge. To Lightning fans, however, it was another link in the chain that is the legend of Evan Oberg.

Who is Evan Oberg?  If the Lightning are to be believed he is a 23-year old defenseman who stands 6’ and weighs 191lbs.  He was supposedly acquired on December 5th that sent fan favorite Jimmy Wright to the Florida Panthers.  Allegedly, he’s played in 13 games with Tampa’s minor league affiliate in Norfolk.  According to the Admiral’s records this Evan Oberg person has played in 13 games and scored 2 goals.

Since the 5th of December his name has appeared on the transaction page 11 times.  That’s right, in a little over a month this Oberg character has been recalled 6 times for the Lightning. By my records he’s spent 19 days on the Lightning roster.  If my calculations are correct he’s traveled more than 8,000 miles back and forth from Norfolk on these recalls.  I imagine, if he exists, that he has a ready bag packed in his apartment and has his own express security line at the Norfolk International Airport.
The only known photo of "Evan Oberg". Couldn't that just be Dana Tyrell is a different jersey? Hard to tell. - Original photo by Bruce Bennet/Getty Images. Crappy blur effect done in paint.net

For all of that trouble he’s seen exactly zero minutes of ice time with the big club.  And that makes me wonder if he even exists. Could he be hockey's Sidd Finch? His name is an anagram for "Never A Bog".  What is a bog? Is it short for "Being on Gameday"?  What does it all mean? Of course, I wouldn’t put it past Steve Yzerman to have created a false identity for roster purposes.  I’m not sure what advantage this would give him, but then again I’m not as smart as he is.   I’m sure it’s part of some master plan.

Why has poor Mr. Oberg been subjected to such a rigorous schedule? Nagging injuries.  Not to him, although I’m sure he suffers from the minor aches and cricks in the neck that all business travelers suffer from, but to various members of the Lightning’s blue line.  The latest victim to require Oberg’s back up services – Marc Andre Bergeron who is dealing with some back issues.
Throughout the year only Brett Clark and Eric Brewer have played in all 45 games. Injuries have cost Pavel Kubina, Victor Hedman and Matt Gilroy all to miss games.  Hedman is still out indefinately with his concussion.  That doesn't even take into consideration Mattias Ohlund being out all season with bad knees.  The injuries on the blue line are part of the reason the Lightning have struggled to gel as a defensive unit and are giving up 65 goals a game so far this season.

MAB is day-to-day (aren’t we all) and will be a game time decision for Friday’s game in Dallas.  This means that Oberg will probably get to watch another NHL game from the press box.  If he’s not going to play, why shuttle him back and forth like an inter-office memo?

Simply put, because they can.  I’m a little hazy on this, but from my understanding, since he’s on a two-way deal with the Lightning he can be recalled and reassigned as many times as they want without having to go through the waiver process. That allows the Lightning to shuttle him back and forth without risking losing him to another team.

Also, he’s got enough talent to play in the NHL (4 games with Vancouver) but he’s not vital enough to the future of the Lightning that missing action will stunt his growth. The Lightning have some prospects playing on the blue line in Norfolk such as Radko Gudas and Richard Petiot that you would think could benefit from NHL experience.  The problem is, as Oberg’s zero minutes of game time attests, is that they won’t play unless it’s an emergency.  In the meantime they would miss valuable minutes in Norfolk, a team that is actually fighting for a divisional lead (currently 4 points behind Hershey for the top spot in the AHL’s Eastern Conference).

What’s in it for Oberg?  Well money, of course. Because he has a two-way contract, it means he gets one salary when he’s on a NHL roster and another when he’s on a minor league roster.  According to Capgeek, his AHL salary is $65,000.  His NHL salary - $875,000.  So everyday he’s on the NHL roster he gets a pro-rated portion of that $875,000.  Not bad work, eh? That doesn’t even include his meal money when they’re on the road (which can be around $90 a day).

He also gets to practice with the big club and soak in the knowledge that comes with traveling and playing with veterans.  That can be important in helping him take the next step in his career.  Who knows, what he learns this year could be the difference between him making the club next year or spending another year in the minors.

Then there is also that remote chance that Coach Boucher calls his number during the morning skate and he gets to play a NHL game again.  Of course, that’s if he actually exists.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Trade Time! Card's That Is..

I haven’t declared 2012 a year of trading yet, but so far it looks like it’s turning out that way.  I’ve pulled off two already and am in the middle of a third.  Not bad for one month.  Since I’m not one for going in order, let’s break down the second trade first. 

Scrolling through the interwebs one day I noticed a Vinny Lecavalier on the Card Boarded site. I scrambled through my collection to see if I had anything even remotely close to value that I could offer Paul.  I found a Jimmy Howard Parkhurst rookie and a handful of other Red Wings cards.  Luckily enough he accepted and mentioned that he would throw in a couple of Lightning cards in addition to the Lecavalier.

First up the Vincent – 

 Oh parallel goodness – the Blue Mirror version of 2010-11 Leaf Certified.  Only 1000 more parallels to go to complete the rainbow!  This particular card is numbered 98/100…98 is his rookie year….eBay one of one!

Now for the Lightning “throw ins”

A trio of the Big Three from 2009-10 Artifacts. No team gets a higher percentage of goals from their top players than the Lightning.  I’d look up the numbers, but I’m feeling kind of lazy right now.

Three Score cards. Mike Smith – redeeming his career in Phoenix, Steve Downie cruising to lay the smack down on somebody who outweighs him by 30 pounds, and Dwayne Roloson making a save (so you know it’s from last season).

Dana Tyrell Black Diamond Rookie Gems.  The latest member of the Lightning’s walking wounded brigade, Tyrell suffered a lower body injury last Sunday against the Penguins and looks to be out for a few more games.

Finally….a surprise card that instantly becomes the front runner for 2012’s Card of the Year:

Daymond Langkow 1997-98 National Pride Die-cut #’d 207/1997.   This card is wonderful.  It’s die-cut, it’s serial numbered and most importantly it features the greatest uniform in Lightning history, the short-lived flame sleeves third jersey.  It features a pretty solid player as well.

Langow was drafted in the first round by the Lightning in 1995 and managed to play parts of 4 seasons with the Bolts before being traded to Philadelphia with Mikael Renberg for Chris Gratton and Mike Sillinger. He’s still in the league now having come back from a neck injury to skate in 39 games for the Phoenix Coyotes this season.

Paul – thanks for the trade!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Since I don't know how...

...to  load the SOPA protest page.  I'll copy "The Bloggess" and post this link instead.  #stopsopa

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Cards and Cheapshots - A Lecavalier-centric Post

It’s time for another card that I just added to my collection and a bit of a discourse on being a fan of a player who does something a bit underhanded and shady.

First up, we have the newest Vincent Lecavalier card. It is also the first Lecavalier card from the 2011-12 added to my collection. Thanks to eBay and to those folks who post auctions with no shipping charges.

Is this the face of a villian?

That is the 2011-12 Upper Deck Canvas version of Vincent Lecavalier’s base car.  Nice card of the Lightning captain making his way onto the ice. I’m 90% certain that the young fan over his left shoulder is rocking an O’s hat as well. 
The canvas parallels are definately one of the nicer parts of the set.  So nice that I hope they bring Masterpieces back as a set next year.

Onto the shady side of things.  While I was enjoying the Ravens victory over the Texans yesterday the Lightning were taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins in a meet up of two struggling franchises.  As typical for Tampa Bay as of late, the Lightning went down 3-0, rallied back to tie it at 3-3 and then, in the end lost 6-3.

To say Evgeni Malkin had him self a day would be an understatement.  With two assists and a natural hat trick, “Geno” showed why he could be a dark horse contender for MVP as the season rolls on.  However his offensive output isn’t what I’m writing about.

With about 8 minutes left in the game, Hopeful Chase man crush Vincent Lecavalier went to hit Malkin in the corner. The cagey Russian ducked out of the way and there was some contact at the waist/leg/knee level.  As they skated back up the ice, Lecavalier kept shoving and trying to provoke Malkin into dropping the mitts for a rarely seen superstar showdown.

Malkin refused to take the bait, but finally had enough and threw a shoulder into Vinny’s face. The two danced, a couple of punches were winged in the general vicinity of each other’s head and then everyone scrummed up.  As the two combatants were dragged apart, Lecavalier landed what can be nicely described as a surprise jab to the face, but is better known as a sucker punch.   Watch it develop here.

First off, I disagree 100% with the NHL on NBC folks.  I don’t think Malkin was “low-bridging” anyone.  He was just getting the hell out of the way.  Lecavalier didn’t talk to the media after the game, so we can’t be 100% certain as to what set him off.  Coach Boucher stated that Vinny thought Malkin went for his knees.  No one likes to have their knees taken out (one of the reasons Mr. Marchand is enjoying a five-game suspension) and Lecavalier’s reaction would indicate that.

Vinny isn’t a dirty player, but he is physical. He’s dropped the gloves in the past, the most memorable one being his throw-down with Jarome Iginla during the Stanley Cup run in 2004.  When he’s on his game, he’s throwing his body around and creating havoc in the offensive zone and that’s all he was trying to do in this case.

I can't believe this is almost 8 years ago- photo from Life

I honestly believe that he thought he was being clipped, but that doesn’t excuse the sucker punch at the end of the scrum. Perhaps he flashed back to the 2006 Olympics when Malkin was suspended for trying to kick him in the head, or maybe it was just the heat of the moment.

 I know the entire team is frustrated. Losing isn’t fun.  Waking up in last place isn’t fun. Playing from behind isn’t fun. Storming back from three goals only to go back down by two less than three minutes later isn’t fun.  It seemed that all of that just boiled over and Lecavalier entered that zone normally occupied by Steve Downie.

As a huge Lecavalier mark, it’s hard not being able to defend that punch.  I want to, I really, really want to lay all the blame on the Penguins.  Unfortunately, in this case it’s pretty black and white.  To be entirely honest, I’m surprised he didn’t at least get the $2,500 NHL slap on the wrist for his actions. According to Bob McKenzie, Vincent will not be subjected to any supplemental discipline from the league.  Dang, no Shanaban video.

It’s not like I’m going to sell off my Lecavalier collection. He’s still my favorite player, but now I’ve got to put up with fans of other teams and their snarky comments.  They already have his declining production, oversized contract and standing on the Sports Illustrated “overrated player list” in their ammo belts, now they have this.  Trust me, it won’t go away.  No matter how much money he donates to local hospitals, or how many times he’s up for the Lady Byng – some fans will label him a dirty player because of this incident (and if you’re a Canadians’ fan – his slash of PK Subban).

He can help alleviate some criticism by upping his performance on the ice - fans will forgive a player anything if he performs.  He could apologize, fans love them some apologies. Or, he can just ignore it and move on with things.  Chances are that the third option is the most likely.

It’ll be interesting to see how Lecavalier will be received in Pittsburgh when the Lightning head up there on February 12th.  I’m assuming a lot will be determined by where the Penguins are in the standings. If they’re still struggling I’m sure there will be some animosity. If their healthy players are back and good times rolling, it’ll be a minor issue.  I also wonder if one of their tough guys goes after Vinny, perhaps a little Matt Cooke regression?

As a fan it sucks when your favorite player does something dirty, but it’s not the end of the world.  Single actions do not define their legacies, nor do they take away from past glory.  The best part of this story is that no one was physically hurt, just their reputations.

Let's end this on a good note.  Your Steve Downie photo of the week.  What an awesome Downie Mustache.
Auditioning for another Steve Prefontaine movie? Photo from SI.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Collection Grows

I must say, Sundays are a bit sweeter when your favorite team advances to the Championship round.  It was ugly but effective for Joe Flacco and the rest of the purple-clad Ravens.  I'll enjoy the victory for a bit before thinking about next week.

In the meantime, let's catch up with a couple of posts about new cards for the collection. 

The first one came via an old eBay purchase from 2011.  After I received those cards the seller sent me an email asking if I'd like to be added to his weekly email list where he gave folks a chance to buy cards before he listed them on eBay.  I said why not and he did.  Every Monday morning he sends out a list of about 30 cards and until last week I didn't see anything that really caught my attention.

Last week was a bit different.  After a quick look I saw this beauty sitting in the middle of his list.

It's a 2008 SP Legen-wait for it-dary Cuts Memorabilia card for Eddie Murray.  Looks like Murray just laced a double to the left-centerfield gap on this one (note - no batting gloves on this one).  The back of the card talks about his 1984 season, but the photo is definitely from his second stint with the O's in the mid-90's.

Anytime you can get a Memorabilia card of a Hall of Famer that's numbered to 75, you gotta do it, right?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Back To Football - and Introducing the Joe Flacco Drinking Game

OK.  So we didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard with our picks last week.  For the record I went 1-3 straight up and 1-3 against the spread (thanks Tebow!).  Link went 1-3 straight up, but 2-2 against the spread as he correctly predicted New Orleans to cover the 6.5.

This week we’re going to continue to give you bad gambling advice while breaking down the second round games.  The lightweights are gone, the big boys are rested and it’s time to see if Tebow-mania is going to roll on.

First off, let me offer my condolences to Link’s Steelers, like a blind, three-legged dog with failing kidneys they were finally put out of their misery. I imagine a lot of changes are coming for that team this offseason.

When was the last time all four home teams won AND covered their spread? For me the biggest surprise of the week was the Houston blowout of Cincinnati.  I didn't think a TJ Yates-led team would dominate in a playoff game. Good for them! Will he pull off a shocker in Baltimore this week? Let’s find out!

Saturday 4.30 EST New Orleans (-3.5) at San Francisco

 If I’m reading the NFL stats right we have the number one passing offense going up against the 17th best pass defense in the league. Drew Brees had a ho-hum 466 yard/ 3 TD performance against the Lions last week. He’s now thrown 28 touchdowns against only 3 picks in the 7 weeks since the bye week. That’s crazy good. However, the 49er’s did pick off 23 passes this season and Brees can throw ‘em in bunches when he’s harassed.

Some folks out there are making a lot of the fact that the Saints are an indoor team that might struggle outdoors.  Two of their three losses were outdoors (Green Bay and Tampa), but they also came early in the season before their offense really started clicking. The weather is expected to be decent so I don’t think it’ll be that big of an effect in the game.  I doubt the Saints will be able to run the ball much, but should be able to hit the short passes and bombs to put enough points on the board.

 As for the 49er’s on offense…..well it is Alex Smith.  He’s not exciting, but he doesn’t turn the ball over either, only 5 INTs on the season.  They rushed for about 127 yards a game so I’m guessing they are a ball control, let the defense win the game type of team.  I’m not going to lie, I haven’t seen too much of them this year. Not sure that gets it done against a team with the firepower of the Saints.

I’m going:

Saints 27, 49’ers 17

Now onto the marquee matchup for the day:

Denver at New England (-13.5)

There’s no way Denver wins this game, right?  Despite being heavy underdogs last week against Pittsburgh there were things that you could look at as being in the Broncos favor, namely a depleted and banged up Steelers team and home field advantage.  This week they are looking at a rested New England squad that has the AFC’s best offense and what should be a rowdy (i.e. well-lubricated) crowd.
There is no way the Patriots make the same mistake the Steelers did in letting Tim Tebow drop back and huck the ball down the field.  Link and I spoke earlier this week about that being the easiest throw a quarterback can make. I can see New England keeping their safeties back and forcing Tebow to complete 8-15 yard passes that require some sort of accuracy, something that he has trouble with. 

If Denver can run the ball, great let them run all day long.  Make them grind out 10 minute drives because you know Tom Brady can march down the field and score in 3 minutes.  As we saw when they met earlier this season Denver can’t keep up with them in a shoot-out. 
Patriots 28, Denver 13

On to Sunday
Houston at Baltimore (-7.5)
It seems the pundits are chalking this one up to a relatively easy Ravens victory.  I’m not so sure.  Granted, I think they win, but I have a feeling it will be an ugly, grinding 15-14 kind of game.  Instead of breaking it down I will give you, instead, the Joe Flacco drinking game:

Every time Flacco checks down to Ray Rice
Every time Flacco overthrows Rice by 5 feet on a swing out pass
Flacco overthows Torrey Smith by inches on a 50 yard bomb
Dennis Pitta has to leap 3 feet in the air to haul in a 3rd and 8 reception

Flacco hits Smith on a 50 yard bomb for a touchdown
You realize Flacco hasn’t completed a pass to a wide receiver in a quarter and a half
Flacco scrambles like a new-born calf on roller skates for a first down
Flacco takes a delay of game penalty
Flacco throw a deep pass into the end zone to draw a pass interference penalty…and gets the call
Flacco completes 8 passes in a row to raise his completion percentage to 50% on the day

I kid, I kid.  I like Joe Flacco and think he’s a better quarterback than critics give him credit for.  I look for Ray Rice to have a typical productive day and the defense feasts on a couple of T.J. Yates turnovers.
Bonus Chug:

Ed Reed attempts a lateral after picking a pass off.
Baltimore 17, Houston 13

The final game of the weekend and a pretty good matchup

New York at Green Bay (-8.5)

The key matchup is going to be the Giants pass rush against a banged up Green Bay offensive line.  If they can get penetration (heh, heh penetration) and fluster Aaron Rodgers they can make it a long day for Mr. Discount Double Check.  Like Brady in New England, Rodgers has plenty of options to throw it to, but it’ll be hard to hit Jordy Nelson when he’s laying on his backside.
On the other side Green Bay gives up a ton of yardage(411 per game) but also creates turnovers (31 picks and 7 recovered fumbles). So I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eli throw for 350 yards but also turn the ball over 4 times. 

By the way, nice move by the Yankees picking up Michael Pineda.  Now their pitching staff is almost as good as the Rays.

Packers 27, Giants 21

Due to a project at work (that required multiple cover letters for TPS reports) Link wasn't able to get to his side of the discourse.  He did however provide his picks)

New Orleans -3.5
New England -13.5
Houston +7.5
Giants +8.5

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Time to Sell? The Lightning at the Half-Way Point

Now, more than ever, it looks like the chances for postseason are sliding away for the Tampa Bay Lightning. On Tuesday they take on the Western Conference leading Vancouver Canucks at the newly christened Tampa Bay Times Forum (it will always be the Ice Palace to us) fighting for their postseason lives.  While no games are must win until facing elimination, every game from now on is pretty damn important.

 The Bolts return from a road trip through Canada that started with high hopes.  Having won three straight at home prior to departing, a solid road trip would have launched them into the thick of the playoff race.  Alas, it wasn’t to be so.

They return to Tampa with nothing more than a couple of new stamps on their passports and some new faces in the lineup.  Three straight losses and zero points have dropped the Lightning to thirteenth in the Eastern Conference.  They are now closer to last (3 points ahead of the Islanders) than playoffs (9 points behind the decimated Penguins).  With forty games gone in the season it’s starting to look like they will be sellers at the deadline.
Looks like someone is scared of Mr. Downie - Getty images Graig Abel

No one on the team or in the organization will admit that they aren’t planning for the playoffs, but it’s time to be realistic. Even if they take advantage of the home-heavy portion of the schedule, there are five teams in front of them that they have to leapfrog.  If they do manage to pull that off then they are sitting in the seventh or eighth seed and staring down a first round matchup with the Rangers, Bruins or Flyers.

Still, the fans on the internet call out for GM Steve Yzerman to trade for a stud goalie, a top-six forward and a top-four defenseman.  It’s not going to happen.  The individual cost of any one of those types of players is going to be astronomical as the season marches to the trade deadline (48 days and counting!).  During his short reign in charge Yzerman has made it quite certain that he isn’t interested in trading the future for the now. 

Blowing up the farm system (i.e. Carter Ashton, Brett Connolly, the Russians or Dustin Tokarski) for a goalie or a rental forward is going to do more damage to this team in the long run than missing the playoffs this year.  The goal of the owner and the front office is to put together a team that is successful for a long run. In that process there will be bumps in the road, this year obviously being one of them. There is no need to sacrifice what has been built because of a temporary detour.

Last year’s deadline deals cost them Ty Wishart, a 23-year old defenseman who might be a career AHL’er , and Brock Beukeboom who may develop eventually but is still years away from making an impact in the NHL.  Neither player was considered an integral part of the Lightning’s future so they were exchanged for pieces that helped solidify a much better product than what is on the ice this year.

Those types of deals won’t make the 2011-2012 Tampa Bay Lightning Stanley Cup contenders.  Trading for Corey Schneider or Tuukka Rask sounds like a good idea at first, but there is no guarantee they are going to perform to the level that they have displayed with their current teams.  If the Semyon Varlamov trade is the starting point for young goaltending talent then it’s a non-starter.  Yzerman is not going to sacrifice a first and second round pick for goalies that have performed well, but haven’t proven anything. Especially since both goalies are Restricted Free Agents next summer and could be heading for decent raises.

Josh Harding has been another name bandied about the internets, but one would wonder how he would perform outside of the Wild’s defensive system.  More likely, if Yzerman is going to address the goaltender situation, he is going to target a veteran backup such as Johan Hedberg or Evgeni Nabokov to ride out this season and then start over in the off-season.  Would that be an upgrade over what they have now?  Probably not and it would be making a move for the sake of making a move, something Yzerman isn’t known to do. So face it Lightning fans – Roloson and Garon are the team going forward.

As for the blue line, it seems that every GM in the league is searching for a top-four defenseman heading into the second half of the season.  That demand is going to drive up the market at well, with sellers looking for young controlled talent or draft pick. Which leads into the next discussion – if the Lightning aren’t buying this season what are they selling?

Yesterday, in an email to a couple of friends I picked the top three members of the team likely to be packing their bags at the deadline.  They were:

Pavel Kubina – Since the injury to Victor Hedman, Kubina has stepped up and filled the role of the physical blue-liner that everyone wants to add at the deadline.  He still can’t skate his way out of a paper bag, but he provides twenty-plus minutes of defense and a heavy shot from the point.  With the competition for available defensemen expected to be heated he could draw a second round pick or a decent prospect in return.  As an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, it’s unlikely that the organization would be bringing him back anyway so they might as well get some value for him.
Prety much the only Malone photo ever needed.

Ryan Malone – If only he could stay healthy his value would be much higher.  Malone still has 3 years left on his contract at a $4.5 million cap hit.  However, for a team with cap space his contract isn’t that bad.  In actual salary he is scheduled to make $3 million, $2.5 million and $2.5 million over the life of the contract.  Not bad for someone who plays the physical game in front of the net.  Clearing that cap room could help the Lightning bring in a decent free agent in the off-season. If a club is offering a 2nd round pick and a mid-level prospect I’m sure Yzerman is listening.
One of these guys can be had at the deadline. And it's not the little one.

Brett Clark – His numbers are down a bit from last season, but for a team needing some depth on the blue line he could be a fit.  Clark playing ten minutes a game is more effective than Clark playing twenty minutes, a role he’s been forced into with the injuries suffered by the Lightning.  For a fourth round pick he could be had.

Other names that could come up in trade talks would be Mathieu Garon, Dominic Moore, Teddy Purcell and Adam Hall.  Teams looking for depth could take a flyer on any of those players and help themselves make a playoff push.

Whatever happens, expect Steve Yzerman to make the best of the situation.  Take for example, the Blair Jones trade. Jones was a role player and was turned into a young defenseman that fits the Guy Boucher model – a smooth-skating puck mover.  I would expect similar moves going down the stretch.  And hey, most of the moves have worked out in the Lightning’s favor so far so why not trust in Yzerman?