Monday, February 27, 2012

Trade Deadline! Time for a Running Diary

Welcome to Rick Nash Day!

It’s time for my favorite day of the year – the NHL Trade Deadline Day! It’s the day where playoff bound teams find the missing piece of their Stanley Cup puzzle and struggling teams stockpile for the future.  Where do the Lightning stand – somewhere in the middle.  General Manager Steve Yzerman has sold off two of his best assets in Dominic Moore and Pavel Kubina, and he pulled a bit of a surprise by turning Steve Downie into a 1st round pick.

For the most part he’s said that he’s done with the big trades and he’s basically run out of live bodies to trade. Will that just be Mr. Yzerman setting a trap for other GM’s? Or is he happy with the roster as it currently sits? Only time will tell so HERE WE GO……

(all times Central, cause I live in Chicago folks!)

7:42am – Boot up computer.  Internet is down. Contemplate firebombing AT&T then I realize it wouldn’t do any good so I add “Call Comcast” to the list of things to do.  Unplug modem, plug it back in and start making breakfast.

8:00am – Internet is back up, but I realize I am too lazy to make breakfast so I grab the open box of Tagalongs and finish them off.  Currently have twitter,, Sportsnet trade special streaming and yahoo mail up.  Fire off first update to friends who are working.

8:13 – You know it’s a slow start to the trade deadline when the big names being thrown around are Steve Ott and PA Parenteau. Best part of watching trade coverage – the analysts talking while looking at their Blackberry’s and texting.

8:24 – Love that Sportsnet has Brian Lawton on a panel of experts.  “Hey I traded for Teddy Purcell!!!” He also tried to trade a draft pick the team didn’t have for the late Derrick Boogaard. Joining him on the panel are Neil Smith and Pat Quinn.  It’s like a room full of people openly begging for a job.

8:27 – The Twitter stories going out with the “Lightning are done”. It’s really the only Lightning news hitting the Twitter-wire.  Is Mr. Yzerman playing coy on his thin cupboard of assets? Oh Nigella Lawson tweets a recipe for a “ridiculously easy spinach and coconut soup”

8:35 – I’m working on some copy about flash drives.  Luckily I sold the stuff long enough that I don’t have to focus on research too much. Which is kind of hard to do that when I’m checking Twitter every 30 seconds.  Oh my Boston calling troops up from the AHL! 

9:29 – There is not much happening so I spent most of the hour cleaning up the “work” I was doing.  It looks like the first deal is close to being done.  Nashville reunites the fabulous Kostitsyn brothers.  Love the paparazzi style TV coverage of Brian Burke walking into a building.

9:45 – I get the shower out of the way and return to  Pierre Lebrun reporting that the first trade of the day is finished as Kostitsyn goes to Nashville in return for a 2nd round pick and the conditional pick Nashville got in the Hal Gill trade.  Whatever happened to no takebacks?

9:57 – There are a lot of tweeters going with the “NOT” posts. As in Paul Gausted is NOT going to Detroit.  Let me try one. Steven Stamkos is NOT going to Columbus.  Yea. I’m an insider now.

10:10 OMG Joffrey Lupul has a soft cast on.  What does it all mean? It means it’s time for me to get a sandwich.  Love the tweets “so-and-so” just came off the ice.  Montreal was smart to cancel team practice.  It’s just not worth it for the players to be put through the speculation. Pat Quinn just referred to his panel (with Lawton and Neil Smith) as the “Dead Poets Society”.  Made me chuckle.

10:18 – Have a feeling Brian Burke is trolling the media.  Walking between buildings and feeding James Reimer rumors. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started tweeting random information.

10:34 – The cat joins me on the desk and I start scrolling through .  In other words, not much going on.  I don’t see the Bolts being too active today, although if the price stays high on some of the names out there teams might turn to Yzerman for Hall or Clark.

10:39 – Is the Nash hype any different than the Brad Richards hype from last year?  Chances are the result will be the same.  To trade someone who has been the face of the franchise since the moment he was drafted would take a franchise-altering bounty.  That’s not something that can come together in 3 hours.  Better to wait until the draft

10:55 – Still holding by my declaration not to read the comments made by St Pete Times readers on Lightning related articles.  Feel like my blood pressure has dropped by at least 3 points. Whole lot of nothing going on officially which has led to a lot of trade jokes involving sandwiches. Joe Jonas is the sexiest has been trending all day long on Twitter.  Just thought you should know that.

11:03 –one of the “anonymous” bloggers is reporting that the Nash banner is being taken down in Columbus.  He also reported that Paul Gaustad was going to Detroit.  Soooo yeah…

11:05 – Jets claim Grant Clitsome on waivers! Waiver moves way more interesting than trades so far today.

11:12 – Lightning news – Teddy Purcell named 2nd star of the week.  Good news for my fantasy team which is fighting for its playoff life.

11:36 – Sportsnet was coming up with reasons for the lack of activity today and mentioned the parity in the league as if it’s a bad thing.  If I’m a fan of a team I’m more excited that they’re in a position to make the playoffs then in a position to sell. As much as I like big trades, I’m not sad the Lightning aren’t more active today.

11:44 – And just like that Steve Yzerman pulls the trigger picking up Mike Commodore.  No word on what went the other way yet.  To me this makes me think Hedman is going to be out longer than expected.

11:53 – Some confusion over his contract status.  He signed a one-year, $1 million contract with Detroit this year after his previous contract was bought out.  So he’ll be a UFA in a couple of months.  Didn’t cost anything (7th round pick) and gives the bolts some depth.

11:56 – Things picking up as Edmonton trades Tom Gilbert to Minnesota to Nick Schultz.  Some rumors saying Detroit is close to dealing a d-man and Chicago is close to picking up Johnny Oduya .  Guess everyone needed some lunch to think over the deals.

1:02 – With an hour or so to go, Mr. Yzerman continues his defensive overhaul.  Prospect Carter Ashton to Toronto for Keith Aulie.  Matt Gilroy to Ottawa for Brian Lee.  I wouldn’t be surprised if 2 of the 3 d-men picked up today are in the lineup tomorrow.
And I was never able to use my "Gilroy was here" photoshop

1:10 The trades are coming in now, but no big name deals.  A lot of depth moves going on like Paulson to Vancouver and Oduya to Chicago.  These are good solid moves that end up meaning more than trading for the big name.
Well he's been in one fight, that's one more than Gilroy.

1:13 – Not sure who the grumpy radio guy is on SportsNet, but his shtick isn’t going over well.  Thanks for playing Saliva though, guys!

1:18 – Starting to come around on the Aulie deal.  Still not a big fan, but the Lightning desperately need depth on the blue line and Aulie is only 22.  He could be a solid foundation along with Hedman.
Wait, a d-man who knocks people over? I'm listening....

1:25 – Other than Martin Short I’m not sure who they are, but the “Canada’s Got Talent” judges seem excited to have their jobs. I find out that the conditional pick the Lightning are sending to Detroit for Commodore is based on the Lightning making the playoffs and Commodore playing 15 games. So basically Mr. Yzerman gets him for nothing.

1:26 – If Columbus doesn’t trade Nash it will be interesting to see how they use the picks they’re acquiring to build around him.

1:40 – 20 minutes to go and if I had to wager right now, none of the big names will move. Doesn’t mean they won’t move in the summer.  I’m kind of surprised that not a single goaltender has moved yet. Oh and in case you’re wondering….yeah none of the names I mentioned have been traded by the Lightning.

2:05 – The deadline shows up and a few deals are trickling as are the confirmations from teams that they are done for the day.  Looks like Nash finishes the season in Columbus. Will make for an interesting summer in Columbus.

2:09 – Spent 6 hours staring at twitter.  Did manage to write a couple of product review during that time, but still feels like a bit of a waste.  For next year I think Deadline day will start at 10:00am.

2:11 – I find it funny that the “anonymous” rumor mongers taunt legitimate reporters who actually have reputations to protect.  Taunting Darren Dreger because he is actually confirming Greg Zanon to Boston instead of tweeting it first is weak.

2:33 – I enjoy Brian Burke as the Maple Leafs GM.  Not sure how I’d feel about him as the Lightning GM.  He’s taking the Toronto media to task for the stress they put on players around the deadline. Small deals still trickling through the twitter-wire with 34 minutes gone past the deadline.  Not the best deadline in terms of big names being moved, but a couple of teams made solid moves.

2:39 – With a late Cody Hodgson deal to Buffalo I’m shutting it down.  Everyone on my email chain is on their own.

There ya go.  The Lightning did indeed become a player on deadline day as Mr. Yzerman continues to revamp his blueline.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever come fully around on the Carter Ashton deal, I just have a feeling that he’s going to be a solid player in the NHL for a long, long time.

For me the Gilroy for Lee deal is a lateral move.  Two teams traded young defensemen who haven’t fulfilled their potential yet.  Sometimes a change in scenery is what they need.

I think Nashville  was the boldest team as they went for offense with Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad (which cost them a 1st round pick).  Vancouver made some solid pickups to strengthen a very good playoff-bound team.  I’m not sure what Washington was doing sitting on the sidelines and the same can be said for Philadelphia

It wasn’t the most exciting deadline in history, but with a lot of teams still in the race and the looming CBA crises I didn’t think it would be. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Recap of Windy City Fight Night 21 in Chicago

With snow swirling outside the UIC Pavallian west of Chicago’s downtown, some of Chicago’s best professional fighters were getting ready to meet up for Windy City Fight Night 21. Put on by 8 Count Production and sponsored by Jack Daniel’s, el Jimador Tequila and X-sport Fitness the line-up featured several up-and-coming fighters taking on their best competition to date.

Here is a quick review of the fights.

Match 1: Curtis Tate (3-3-0, 3 KO’s) vs. Alejandro Otero (3-11-2)

The first matchup of the night pitted the two biggest men on the fight card against each other.  Otero, a 42-year-old Cuban, weighed in at 211lbs while Tate was a very soft 258lbs.  Both fighters were game from the first bell as they came together in the middle of the ring like two bulls crashing together, winging wild haymakers at each other. 

Otero went down early in the first more from exhaustion then one shot.  Both fighters were winded by the 2:00 minute mark and the activity slowed a bit.  Tate, while not in the best of shape, did show a little form and kept the pressure on the Cuban.  The fighter from Tennessee did get caught towards the end of the round as a wild left from Otero knocked his mouth guard out.

The second was a carbon copy of the first with Otero under siege from Tate.  Otero went down again early, again not a clean knockout, more of a stumble aided by a glancing blow from Tate.  He’d make it back up and last until the 1:49 mark when he was dropped by Tate again and referee Gerald Scott had seen enough and put Otero (and the crowd) out of his misery by calling a halt to the fight.

Match 2:  Juan Bustamante (2-0-0, 1 KO) vs. Ryan Strickland (1-3-0, 1 KO)

Barely after the ring was cleared for the first match, the next competitors were announced and heading down the ring.  The super flyweights looked like teenagers, well maybe soccer players, in the ring. I doubt there combined weight was much more than Tate’s.

Once the bell sounding it was apparent that what the two lacked in weight they made up for in talent.  Both fighters had solid exchanges with Strickland getting the better of the action early.  That wouldn’t last.  Bustamante quickly discovered that his hand speed was better than Strickland and started to dominate the action. 

At the 2:29 mark he would land a perfect right hand on Strickland’s chin.  The fight was over before Strickland hit the canvas. The referee could have counted to 100 and it wouldn’t have mattered, Kirkland was out. There is a certain sound from the crowd when a clean shot leads to a knockout no matter what level of competition it is, a noise that is repeated with each replay on the video screen. The crowd made that noise when Kirkland went down.

Match 3:

Junior Wright (2-0-0, 2 KO’s) vs. Rogelio Saldana (1-1-0, 1KO)

Wright, a Chicago native, is an up-and-comer with an extensive amateur background (3-time Golden Gloves winner) who dominated his first two fights scoring knockouts in the first round.  Saldana came out looking to make this a competitive junior lightweight fight.  It was – for about 45 seconds.

Wright weathered a few jabs from his opponent without difficulty.  He spent the first minute snapping off the occasional jab of his own before working Saldana into the corner and unleashing a delicious left hook to his midsection.  Saldana took a knee and wasn’t able to meet the ref’s count and Wright had his third 1st-round knockout of his young career.  After the fight, Wright admitted that he had hoped Saldana could have lasted a little longer because he knew that he needed to get some rounds under his belt as he continues his pro career.

Match 4:

Dimar Ortiz (2-0-0 2 KO’s) vs. Francois Russell (0-1-0)

Ortiz, another Chicago based fighter, brought a boisterous cheering section with him and he didn’t disappoint them. He clearly outclassed Russell throughout the first three rounds of the fight as he muscled the timid fighter around the ring. 

Ortiz would get him into a corner and unleash several combinations while Russell could only hold on until the ref broke them up. Russell offered almost no resistance through the four rounds as he only fired an occasional left jab despite his corner’s fervent pleading to “let your hands go!”

As Ortiz stalked Russell around the ring with a slightly crazed look in his eye it was apparent that it was only a matter of time before he would drop his opponent.  It did in the 4th round as a thunderous right hand brought the crowd out of their seats and the ref stopped the fight at the 2:59 mark.

Ortiz dominated much of the fight and could have ended it sooner, but continued to make the young fighter’s mistake of smothering his punches by getting in too close when he had him along the ring.  Finally during the flurry that ended the match, Ortiz took a half-step back and found the room to land his victorious right hook.

Match 5:

Paul Littleton (1-0-0, 1 KO) vs. Cesar Martinez (1-4-1)

The last of the undercard matches featured another promising fighter in Littleton as he took on the 36-year-old Mexican fighter Martinez.  The Chicago-based Littleton was able to land his jab repeatedly from the beginning of the fight as Martinez kept walking into it.  The older fighter’s primary means of defense was to lunch forward and duck at the waist to avoid Littleton’s power shots.

It took Littleton a round to time the weaving Martinez, but when he did he was able to land 4 crushing right hands that knocked Martinez out at the 2:33 mark of the second round. Littleton did look solid when he was pressing the fight, but a better class fighter might be able to take advantage of some of the holes in his defense.  Martinez landed the occasional shot, but couldn’t hurt the younger man.

Match 6:

Edner Cherry (28-6-2, 16 KO’s) vs. Guillermo Sanchez (13-4-1, 5 KO’s)

The first of the co-main events saw former title contender Edner “The Cherry Bomb” Cherry take on Guillermo Sanchez, a Puerto Rican fighter with thirteen wins to his name. This match, featuring the two most experienced fighters on the card, promised to be a good contest.  And it lived up to the anticipation.

Cherry, a member of the 8 Count stable, is rebuilding his career after losing to the WBC Light Welterweight Champion Timothy Bradley (aka Manny Pacquiao’s next opponent) in 2008. A native of the Bahamas currently residing in Wauchula, FL, he had helped his family pick oranges as a child.

The first round didn’t get off as well as he would have hoped as Sanchez was able to land four huge left hands.  The fourth one send Cherry stumbling to the mat.  He was able to easily beat the count and remained wary of the lethal left for the rest of the match.

And a grueling eight-round match it turned out to be.  Cherry was able to get inside and bully Sanchez around the ring, stifling the younger fighter’s big punch.  By the end of the second it became apparent that Sanchez’s game plan was based entirely on that one punch and Cherry was wise to take it out of play.

Still, Sanchez’s defense was rather tight and Cherry was only able to land a few of his famous “Cherry Bomb” power rights.  His most effective punch was a left hook that he was able to land consistently when the two brawled along the ropes.  In the end, Cherry’s ability to control the ring and land the more effective punches won him an unanimous decision.

Match 7:

Adrian Granados (6-1-1, 3 KO’s) vs. Jamie Herrera (7-1-0, 4 KO’s)

The final match pitted Granados, one of the most exciting sluggers in the 8 Count roster, against a brawler in Herrera.  The two fighters provided the UIC Pavilion with an exciting eight rounds of almost non-stop action.  The handspeed of the two welterweight fighters was head-and-shoulders above any of the other boxers on the card with maybe the exception of Junior Wright.

For most of the eight rounds both fighters stood toe-to-toe in the ring and hit each other with the best that they had.  Very few jabs were thrown with any real intention as both gentlemen decided it would be better to fight in tight and wing power shots at each other.

As the fight wore on, Granados realized his best course of action was to fight in close and then dance away before Herrera could counter his shots.  Frustrated a bit with that tactic, Herrera illicited a few boos from the audience as he continually clinched Granados before he could dance away.

That was the only thing that displeased the crowd as they rose to their feet several times during the match as the action rose in the ring. The fourth round featured an epic exchange along the ropes as Herrera landed a solid left to the body and a follow-up right landed flush on Granados’ face.  Adrian wasn’t deterred as he countered with a solid left of his own that drove Herrera back.

Granados emerged the unanimous victor on points as he dominated a tired Herrera in the last round. After the fight he admitted that he knew he had to outbox Herrera as he couldn’t outbrawl him and Herrera was gracious in his defeat, admitting that the better boxer won the fight.

Windy City Fights 21 was an excellent night of boxing.  8 Count Productions provided an exciting card that featured knockouts, toe-to-toe exchanges, and hard-fought victories.  With another night of fighting already scheduled for March 16th, it’s easy to see why they put on some of the best boxing events in the Chicago area.

Friday Night Light - As in Light-Heavyweight

There are a few things left on my Sports Bucket list to accomplish, attend a Super Bowl, watch a football game at Notre Dame, play Scotland Yards, etc, but on Friday night I was able to check one off my list.  Attend a boxing match as a credentialed member of the press.  There is a part of me that wants to turn this lonely piece of internet real estate into something of a career, you know get paid to write about sports I like.  Boxing is one of those sports.

Last week I contacted Bernie Bahrmasel at 8 Count Productions to see if I could secure a media pass for Windy City Fight Night 21 which they were promoting.  I sent him a couple of links from this site and he said that I would be added to the list.  Awesome, my first press pass since my college days.

So last Friday, I braved the snowstorm (OK a few lonely flakes were falling), left the Duchess to her own devices, jumped on the Red Line, switched to the Blue Line downtown and an hour later I was standing outside the UIC Pavilion waiting for the doors to open. As usual I overestimated the time it would take me to get there and had a half-hour to kill.

It went by pretty quick as I started talking to another gentleman who was there to cover the fight. He had started a blog, got picked up by a boxing website and was looking at possibly working for Ring Magazine.  See dreams can come true!

Finally, the doors opened and I met Bernie to pick up my pass.  He looked busy so I didn't chat too long, just headed down to the ring where there was literally a seat with my name on it.  I was stationed at the end of the row of folding chairs ringside and directly behind the blue corner.  Not a bad place to watch a fight if you don't mind doing some ducking and weaving yourself.

I was pretty much alone in my section so I sat down and prepared some notes, got my fight cards lined up so I could score the fights as they progressed. Then I waited, and waited, and waited some more.  I got the distinct impression that I should have been somewhere else, but this being my first time I really had no idea where to go.

There was some action in the ring as one of the refs was testing the ropes and the floor to make sure there weren't any bad spots.  Oh, and the ring girls were practicing.  Holding a sign card and walking around the ring in 4-inch, spiked heels isn't the easiest thing in the world.  Especially getting in and out of the ring.  I'm glad I can say that there were no incidents and they performed their duties admirably.

Eventually the ringside personal showed up, judges, doctors, officials, a nattily-attired ring announcer and the photographers.  The crowd was slowly making its way in as well.  When the first fight started I would say that the blocked off seating was about half full and by the end of the night pretty much filled.  There was a security guard next to me that I chatted up throughout the fight and he said that they draw pretty well for most of their fights, especially when the "the Polish kid fights".  Alas, Andrezej Fonfara was not on the card for Friday's contest so I'll have to wait to see that in the future.

The first match got under way around the scheduled 8:00pm start time and steamrolled through right up until about 11:00pm.  I have a full review of the seven matches following this post if you want the details, but for now here are some observations of attending a live boxing match.

- TV does a decent job of mic'ing up the ring, but there is no way it can capture the sound of a perfect punch landing on the face or body of a person.  I was lucky enough to see examples of both types of punches and the collective gasps/screams from the audience when they landed.

- If there are more than two people working a fighter's corner, the time between rounds is complete chaos.  Only one member of the crew is allowed in the ring, but the rest still get up on the apron.  When it's time to leave the ring there's people leaping off, stools being dragged away, ice bags and water bottles getting knocked over and people streaming through the ropes and trying to navigate extremely steep stairs.  It's like a NASCAR pit crew without the air wrenches.

- Each corner seems to have one guy who shouts the same advice to the fighter through the whole match. It's usually something along the lines of "Don't get on the ropes!" or "Let your hands go!" or "Set the trap!". There was a lot of Spanish too, I can assume it's pretty much the same but can't be sure because the only words I understood were "mano derecha" and "la cabeza".

- Guillermo Sanchez has a very excitable trainer who talks with his hands a lot.  Which wouldn't be bad if he didn't have huge globs of Vaseline on them that went flying over his shoulder when his boxer was doing well. Remember that ducking and weaving I mentioned earlier?

- Watching a fight without having to listen to commentators or having access to replays definitely changes the way you feel about a fight.  You miss some of the insight, but also the subtle bias toward a particular fighter.

- Two things that will instantly get the crowd against you - entering to religious music and not being from Chicago. However, putting on a good show will win them back as Edner Cherry proved.

- That being said, the crowd was really pretty good.  It was extremely diverse and supported most of the boxers. They seemed to have a good time without getting out of control. The guard next to me said that the boxing crowd is generally well behaved and he would "rather work 12 boxing matches in a row than one rock concert".

- One thing they don't show a lot on TV is the aftermath of a knockout.  When Ryan Franklin (spoiler alert) was KO'd he was down on the canvas for a solid 10 minutes and when he did finally leave the ring it was on wobbly legs.  For a second I thought he was going to be tumbling down the ring steps even with assistance.  Yet, an hour later he was in the crowd, enjoying a beer and seemingly no worse for wear.

Franklin not doing so well at that moment.

- Junior Wright is a name to keep an eye on. As is Adrian Granados.  Wright had an extensive amateur career and was probably the most polished boxer on the card. He actually reminds me of a young Sugar Shane Moseley.  Granados is a bit more of a brawler, but definitely a crowd-pleaser. His night-closing bout with Jamie Herrera would have fit right in on any Pay-Per-View undercard.

- Taking pictures and trying to follow a round does not work.

It doesn't help when you don't bring the right lens, either.

- A crowd's reaction to a big punch is awesome live.  I'm not sure there is anything like it in sports.  There is a mix of yelling with some "oh man'ing" and some "damn that had to hurt" all thrown together in a two-second yelp.  And when a fighter is on the ropes, the word "frenzy" is the only one that can describe the crowd.

- The 10-bell count is one of the most spine-tingling traditions in all of sports.

- My favorite note that I took was "crazy-eyed son of a bitch".  Which was in reference to the look Dimar Ortiz had in the ring when he was looking to finish off Francois Russell.

- The poor ring girls didn't get much action early on as there were two 1st-round stoppages and two 2nd-round stoppages in the first four fights.  So there was a brief intermission where they got to do their thing in the ring (walking around in high heels and bikini's) while tossing t-shirts to the crowd.

For once - not a shirtless hockey player.

Overall it was a very entertaining night.  I would like to thank Bernie and promoter Dominic Pesoli of 8 Count Productions for allowing me to attend. I would also like to thank all of the fighters for putting on a good show.  If you're in town on March 16th I highly recommend picking up some tickets for Windy City Fight Night 22 - that Polish kid will be fighting so it should be a great night of fighting!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nothing to See Here - Just Some Pros Playing Table Tennis

Nice crowd - wonder who's taking side bets - photo from evan longoria's twitter feed

I think the boys are onto something. A celebrity Ping-Pong league. Just tour the country challenging other professional athletes in their respective cities.  It's gold, Jerry, GOLD!

I do enjoy how Longoria looks exactly like he does at third base when a pitch is thrown. Meanwhile, Martin St. Louis has the hand out for balance and looks like he's gonna snap that one by him on glove/paddle side.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Steve Yzerman - Keeping the Trade Deadline Interesting

If it’s game day, General Manager Steve Yzerman must be making a roster move.  This time, in a bit of twist, he actually added a player to the roster.  Former Penguin and Islander Tim Wallace is the newest Bolt having been claimed on waivers prior to Thursday’s match-up with the Winnipeg Jets.
TAMPA FAN LIKE FIGHT - photo from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Listed at 6’1” and 207 lbs. the native of Alaska (and former Alaskan All-Star teammate of Nate Thompson) brings some size to the Lightning.  According to my source in Pittsburgh (Hi Link!) he is physical but not the fastest skater.  That makes me wonder how he’ll adapt to Coach Boucher’s style of play which, quite frankly, requires a lot of skating.

One thing Wallace probably won’t be doing a lot of is scoring, as he’s racked up a scintillating 3 assists in his 55 game NHL career.  Then again, you never know with the Lightning.  Over the last two seasons Thompson has potted 17 goals compared to the 4 he had in his previous three seasons of play. Teddy Purcell has blossomed into a sniper and the recently departed Dominic Moore also saw his goal scoring increase when coming to Tampa.

The 27-year-old winger carries a $700,000 cap hit and is only signed through the rest of the season.  If he’s part of Mr. Yzerman’s rebuild, no make that remodel, of the club has yet to be determined.  At the moment he is an affordable forward with NHL experience.  It allows Mr. Yzerman to fill a roster spot without further depleting a Norfolk Admirals squad that is in the midst of a heated playoff race in the AHL.

Since 2011 there have been reports that Norfolk has been seeking to replace the Lightning (or Tampa Bay seeking to replace the Admirals depending on who is writing the article). Continuing to pull key contributors up to the big club isn’t the best way to smooth over a possible rocky relationship with your highest level affiliate. 

In the meantime the gradual reshaping of the Lightning continues.  The moves Mr. Yzerman has made and will possibly make up to Monday and then in the off-season have to be taken as a whole.  Trading a top –six forward for a draft pick isn’t the best deal until we find out what he does with that pick. Removing three key players from a team that is creeping closer to a play-off spot may not be wise in the short-term, but could keep the team competitive for the long run.

During an interview with Dave Mishkin after the Steve Downie trade the General Manager admitted that last year’s success put a bit of a crimp in his plans to build up the farm system and acquire young talent.  He turned down deals for future assets in order to pursue a shot at the Stanley Cup, a shot that fell short by one goal.

This year he’s taking those deals (and getting a lot of credit from the Canadian media, by the way).  What won’t be clear until the start of next season is, what his grand plan is in acquiring all of these high draft picks.  Will he bundle them together to move up?  Will he bundle them to acquire a young goaltender or a blueliner?  Or will he actually use them to draft players? Who knows, maybe he trades them all away to draft the NHL’s equivalent to Ricky Williams. I would pay $56 to see Mr. Yzerman pose with Nail Yakupov in a wedding dress on the cover of The Hockey News.

As of now he’s keeping his options open.  I doubt he’s openly shopping any of his players at this point, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t listening to offers.  It’s possible that if Rick Nash ends up in Los Angeles, Brian Burke puts a call in to Channelside and inquires as to what it will take to bring Ryan Malone to Toronto.

A lot of us on the sidelines think it’s easy to be a GM.  We often forget that it takes two to tango, and sometimes three if the third person has themselves a fancy No Trade Clause in their contract.  We don’t have to answer directly to an owner or calculate long-term salary cap implications on deals. It’s easy to trade somebody when we don’t have a budget (which for some teams is way lower than the cap) to answer to.

I’ve fired a couple of #trustinyzerman hash tags out over the Twitter machine in the last two weeks. One, because I love to make lame hash tag jokes on the internet; and secondly, he hasn’t given us any reason not to.  The vast majority of moves he’s made have made this team better.  Heck, given another year Ryan Shannon may actually contribute.

Ryan Shannon doing what he does best - not scoring. Mike Carlson, Reuters

Two weeks ago I wrote that the Lightning were entering the most important stretch of their season.  They responded by going 4-2-1 and creeping a few points closer to the eighth and final play-off spot. They also lost their captain for at least three weeks with a broken finger, their best player’s best friend and line-mate, a top four defenseman and a solid defensive forward.  Oh and their mascot got fired.

This team isn’t better than it was two weeks ago, but it is on the path to being better next season.  We all just have to Trust In Yzerman.
It just isn't right, man. Michael Martin NHLI/Getty

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

All Good Things Must End

The Lightning and The Deadline - I Name Names

"We traded who? Is he on my line? No. Ok. I'm going to go score a goal now."

It’s time to light the fires on one of the best weeks in the NHL.  Well, the best week that doesn’t involve playoff games, that is.  From now until the 27th phone bills around the league are skyrocketing as general managers try to find the final pieces for their playoff teams. Or, teams that are out of the race look for the building blocks for next season.

The Lightning are occupying the nebulous area in between the two right now.  They currently stand six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot with at least a game in hand on everyone they’re chasing.  The problem is that there are a bunch of teams that they are chasing. Including the eighth-spot Maple Leafs there are five teams within six points (and two more seven points out).  That’s a close race.

It’s closer than last week when Steve Yzerman admitted he was looking for the future instead of this season as the deadline approached.  His actions echoed his words as he was able to move Dominic Moore to the San Jose Sharks for a 2nd round pick and Pavel Kubina to the Flyers for a conditional 2nd round pick (either this draft or 2013), a 4th round pick and a John Kalinski. 

What a John Kalinski looks like.

Mr. Yzerman turned two unrestricted free agents into three draft picks and a fringe prospect.  That isn’t too shabby. I like Kubina, but he doesn’t fit the defensive mold that he and Coach Boucher have been looking for in their two seasons in Tampa Bay.  If you take a look at who’ve they’ve brought in they’ve all been younger, puck-moving defensemen.  The only exception left on the roster right now is Brett Clark, and not to foreshadow the rest of the column, I wonder if he’ll still be here in a week.

What hasn’t been mentioned too much in the press about these moves, is that the Lightning saved a little over $1 million in real salary.  Even with owner Jeff Vinik raising the team’s payroll over the last two seasons, they still have to be careful with their money.

 Attendance has been steady this year despite the team’s struggles (ESPN has them ranked 13th in home attendance averaging 18,334 fans per contest).  With a notorious fickle fan base, throwing in the towel could see a drop in fans showing up which could hurt the team financially.  Saving a little bit of money while stocking future assets is a win/win for the organization.

I’ve thought for awhile that this team hasn’t performed to the level of a playoff team.  Even if they do leapfrog the teams in front of them, they still look like first round fodder for the Rangers or Flyers.  Even with the better play of late they’re struggling to make up ground.  It seems when they win, so does everyone else around them. 

With the team winning twice since Mr. Yzerman began his team transformation he has backed off his fire-sale mentality and said that he’ll let the team on the ice play out the year.  Which to me means, he doesn’t have anything pending and if nothing pops up he has no problem waiting till the summer to finish refurbishing the squad.

However, I don’t think he’s ignoring the phone.  Kubina and Moore were probably the top two assets on his trade list, but that doesn’t mean he is currently out of bullets.  From surfing the web and seeing what other teams are looking for, here are the players that I think could still move:

-          Adam Hall – a solid defensive center with face-off skills. He could fill a role a roll for a team looking for depth.

-          Brett Clark – he’s not flashy, but he blocks a lot of shots and can fill in on the power play occasionally.

-          Ryan Malone – the name drawing the most chatter, but I think his health history might keep some teams away.

-          Mathieu Garon – my dark horse trade candidate.  Say the Kings move Jonathon Bernier for offense, it wouldn’t be impossible to think they might pick up Garon as insurance against injury.

Overall, I think the trade deadline will be quiet this year due to two factors.  One, so many teams are in contention there aren’t that many big name potential free agents available.  Secondly, with an uncertain future in regards to the CBA, GM’s might be wary of taking on a long term contract.

I’ll still be following along, trying to weed out the fake twitter accounts (hint, check number of followers and previous tweets) and reading between the lines. 
Your Steve Downie Photo of theWeek - Steve Downie Goal Scorer

Monday, February 20, 2012

Catching Up On Some Trades (Non-NHL Edition)

It goes without saying that the card trading folks in this here blog-o-sphere are, without question, some of the most generous traders out there.  I’m a little behind on my trade posts, much like I’m behind on just about everything in life (well except for the rent).  So let’s see if we can rectify that over the next week or so.  Especially since I have a couple more of deals in the hopper now that Zistle is back up an running.

Back in the month of January, back when we here in Chicago thought winter might still hold something nasty for us, I was contacted by Kyle over as JABOS.  He actually liked something on one of my 200 trade bait posts and wanted to know if I’d be willing to send them his way in exchange for some 1983 Topps.

Without a doubt I was interested. …. Side note - John Cena just uttered my favorite sentence of 2012, “I lost a bro-ski for a ho-ski”….yes I occasionally tune into the random wrestling broadcast.  Yes, the Duchess makes fun of me for it.  I’m not quite sure which ranks higher on her, “My boyfriend is a 35-year-old-teenager” list.  Probably the wrestling.  At least with the cards I’ve brought a little cash into the house.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the level of interest in getting rid of some 2010 Trade Bait. It was high.  So after a couple of emails the trade was on! I but the cards in the good ol’ yellow envelope and sent them on their way.  Twelve minutes later I promptly forgot about it.  Hey, I have a short attention span. It’s amazing I can type 500 words about one topic at a time.

So imagine my surprise when this showed up in my lobby.

Best part of not working - not having to wear shoes

OK. So it was actually sealed, but still it was a box!  A box of cards! He wasn’t kidding when he said he had a large bunch.

My netbook is BPA free- cause the sticker says so!

Five stacks of pure cardboard greatness. 

I was so excited to enter the cards in the database!

Thanks to Kyle’s generosity I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel with this project.  Which, of course, means I’ll just move onto another quest.  Maybe the 1976 set?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The One Where I Piggy Back A Post Off of a Real Website

Welcome to a new, and hopefully reoccurring, part of this blog. The fine folks over at Raw Charge (The Internet’s Bestest Place for All Things Lightning Related) have been posting a question of the week for some time now.  I’m not sure how long, definitely not as long Vinny’s 20-goal streak but longer than Niklas Sundstrom’s Lightning career.

 I’ve occasionally commented on their questions, but have always wanted to have a platform to expound upon my thoughts.  Then I remember that I had a blog.  Not only that, but a blog that sometimes even mentioned the Lightning. So with Chief-Raw Charger-Officer’s blessing I’ll be posting my thoughts (no matter how incoherent they are) on the weekly question.  He did make me promise not to call anyone mollycoddles or Johnny Bum’s so that might limit my quest to bring those words back into vogue, but that’s neither here nor there.

Of course, Mr. Fontana would echo my thoughts with his answer – keeping Cedric Desjardins in the organization.  Allowing the Boucher-approved net minder to leave for rockier pastures of Colorado thinned out the Lightning’s stable of NHL-ready goaltenders.  Which is something that would have been nice with the pre-season number one allowing almost 4 goals a game and his counterpart proving that he can’t really handle the workload of a number one puck stopper.

So instead I’m going to say that if I was granted one very specific Lightning related wish I would have sent Brett Connolly back to his junior team this season.  I know, I know I’ve argued that he belonged with the team at the beginning of the season and heck, just the other day I twittered, tweeted, twitted that he could be the recipient of more playing time now that Dominic Moore is a Shark (Hmmm….in a future Winnipeg/San Jose match-up will they have the cojones to have a “Dress as your favorite ‘West Side Story’ character” night?).

Back when Connolly and the Lightning Power Play could score.  Photo from AP.

However, I’ve come to change my mind.  Seeing the difference in his play from earlier in the season to now makes it almost obvious that he wasn’t ready to be a factor for an NHL team.  After starting the season averaging almost 13 minutes of ice-time a game he hasn’t played more than 9 minutes a game since January 7th. In those 15 games since the 7th he has one assist and hasn’t scored a goal since November 17th against Pittsburgh (Ha. Suck it Penguins’ fans!)

He’s been a scratch of the healthy variety several times since the calendar has flipped to 2012. It’s obvious that Coach Boucher isn’t at the point where he’s comfortable having the young winger on the ice during critical parts of the game.
His slump should help me acquire this card at a reasonable price. Bonus!

This doesn’t mean I think he’s a bust, or a dud if you prefer Lightning historical nomenclature.  The Campbell River native’s performance on the big stage of the World Juniors proved that he can perform against the best in the world; he just needs a little more seasoning to elevate his game in the NHL.

Would he have gotten that seasoning by spending a year in a league that he dominated in previously? That’s hard to say, but another year would have allowed the 19 year-old to put on more weight and become stronger.  Very few players can come into the league under the age of 20 and be effective. There is just such a tremendous difference in the speed and size of the players that it is hard to overcome, plus you can’t even enjoy a beer with your teammates after a hard-fought victory.  They still do that, right? Sit around the clubhouse and crack open a Molson or two while their various cuts get stitched up.  I like to think they do.

Next season will be a big test for Connolly.  He’ll have to earn his spot on the club especially with young prospects such as Carter Ashton and Cory Conacher knocking on the door.  Connolly has shown that he is willing to play physically, whether it’s crashing the net or going into the corners to battle for the puck. That’s going to be the biggest factor for him staying in the league. If, and it’s always a big if when talking about prospects, he can take it to the next level and finish the opportunities he creates.

He has undoubtedly learned a lot by being in the NHL, but with 20/20 hindsight, I think his days (if not his bank account) would have been better off in juniors for one more season.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Yea! New Through-the-Mail!

Apparently the secret to getting my through-the-mail autographs back is to go stand in line for a free autograph.  For the second time in a row, within days of getting a free in-person autograph of a Chicago Blackhawk Hall of Famer I've gotten an envelope in the mail with my mailing label on it.

Unfortunately, for the first time I've suffered some damage on the return shipping.  It appears that the athlete put the card back in the penny sleeve before the ink dried on the card AND neglected to include the toploader on the return shipping as well.  Oh and I don't think they actually sealed the envelope.

But hey I still got an autographed card and it's a member of the Lightning.

Love the look of Heroes and Prospects

That's right, it's Teddy Two-Goals!  Or Two-Time Teddy. Or Teddy Two-Step.  Or whatever I call him on twitter when he scores a goal.

As you can you see, some of the Sharpie rubbed off on the penny sleeve and the signature itself is a bit smudges.  Of course, some of it is my fault.  I didn't prep the card at all, thinking that the ITG Heroes and Prospects set didn't have that high of a gloss on it.  My bad.

Still, to add a Teddy Purcell autograph to my collection is a plus.  If he hadn't signed a two-year deal before this season, chances are he'd be on the trade block for the Bolts along with Pavel Kubina and the recently departed Dominic Moore. 

Purcell was a deadline pickup for the Lightning in 2010 as Tampa Bay sent Jeff Halpern to Los Angeles for the young winger.  Last season was a bit of a breakout for Purcell,  as he potted 17 goals and 51 points for the Bolts. A slick skater with a sneaky quick snapshot Purcell has 14 goals this year and is showing that he is a valid secondary scoring option for the sometimes punchless Tampa squad.

He would be even more potent if he shot the puck more, but playing on a line with Steven Stamkos kind of prevents that from happening.  Anytime you are on the same line as the best shooter in the NHL you tend to defer to him whenever possible. 

Thanks for sending the card back Teddy!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Lightning Hall of Fame Autograph

Ok. So that's a bit of a misleading title.  Of the 1196 games he played in the NHL only 105 of them were with the Lightning. He did manage to score 24 goals and put up 63 points in the blue, black and silver which is good enough for 36th on the all-time Lightning points leader list (tied with Ryan Craig!).

He's probably best known for his work with Chicago Blackhawks, who the Lightning traded him back to in 1995 for a 6th round pick which Tampa Bay used to draft Eduard Pershin. You remember him, right?

Look at those stats, how could you not remember him? Kudos to me for figuring out how to embed some stats, by the way.  That should help with the deadline fire sale the Lightning should be holding in about a week. My guess is Pavel Kubina, Dominic Moore and Adam Hall are forwarding their mail in March and GM Steve Yzerman is figuring out what to do with some extra mid-round draft picks.

Have you figured out who the newest addition to my autograph collection is yet?

At this rate I'm going to have to start collecting the base Champs set all over again

Hall of Famer Denis Savard was signing for free at the Chicago Auto Show today and with nothing better to do I headed down there.  I don't really have any story to tell like I did with the Esposito autograph (and really that wasn't an exciting story, was it?).

I was kind of shocked at how short the line was for Savard's autograph and then I remembered most folks were at work between the hours of 4 and 6 pm on a Wednesday.  Guess there's something to be said for not having a job. Heck, I even got $4 off of admission because I brought a can of food.  Although, the lady accepting the food wasn't happy that I only brought one.  Look Miss, I like my canned soup, you're lucky to be getting anything.

The car show itself was impressive, if you're into that kind of thing I guess.  A lot of folks walking around taking pictures of cars, I mean A LOT of photos.  It makes me wonder how many actually get printed out- less than 1% maybe? What are they going to do with a picture of a 2013 Honda Civic taken with their iPhone?  Although some folks had some sweet camera rigs, and they didn't look like they were with the press - bloggers maybe?

I did take one picture with my woefully outdated Blackberry.  Ford unveiled the new Shelby Cobra Mustang at the show and I snapped a photo to send to my Pops who owns a 60-something-ish Mustang of his own.  Figured I'd show him the newest member of the family.  Not gonna lie, it was kind of bad ass looking. I imagine it would look sweet stuck in traffic on the Kennedy everyday.

How many words at 2 cents a word would it take to own this? I don't know, I don't do math

Where was I? Oh yeah, the line for Savard. There really wasn't one.  I took my spot at 3:45 or so and there were maybe 20 folks in front of me, including a Blackhawks fan who stopped talking to me once I said my best memories of Savard were of him as a Bolt.  Which was kind of a lie, because I don't really remember him as a Bolt as it predates my fascination with the team (1997) and the only reason I knew he played for the Lighting is because I have a British Long Ton of his cards from the Neo-Vintage era.

The line moved pretty briskly, Denis wasn't chit-chatting with the folks.  He was extremely pleasant even when I put two items in front of him (the card and a 5x7 for my boy Link).  He signed both and wished me a good day.  I debated jumping back in line to get a Montreal Canadians card signed as well, but figured the El ride  home would be packed if I dallied any longer.

Eddie Olczyk signs on Friday, but I think I'm skipping that one.  As much as I'd like him to sign something with the phrase "Happy Humans"on it, I'm not sure I can justify another ticket or listen to some dame spout off the specs of a car I'll never be able to afford.

That being said I'm glad to add this card to the collection.  One of these day's I'm going to figure out what to do with the signed cards other than stick them in a binder.  Till then...well it's going in a binder.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Something for the Baseball Fan in Your Life

If I had the room I would definitely have a sports shrine dedicated to my favorite teams.  Alas, living in the city kind of limits the amount of wall space I have available.  That’s not a complaint, moving to Chicago definitely outweighs having a shelf of bobbleheads hanging over the desk in my office. That being said I still keep an eye out for random things that would look cool once I do have space again.

I already have a box of posters and autographed 8x10’s that I’ve lugged from Florida to Chicago and plan on framing and hanging once I have a man cave to decorate.  Of course, if anyone is interested in an autographed 8x10 of Corey Schwab I think we can work out a deal.

Along with the basic things to hang on the wall, I’m always looking for something a little different to hang up as well.  A few years ago I got wind of an artist who has been putting out some unique pieces of art dedicated almost solely to the baseball fans among us.

Chris Speakman is a print maker living in Massachusetts (won’t hold that against him) who has been churning out one-of-a-kind screen prints on his website for the last few years. Those of us who collect baseball cards might remember the 2009 insert set based on his work.

His limited edition prints evoke the World War II-era propaganda style posters that have recently become popular.  To me, the use of the teams primary colors really make them pop and would look fantastic on the wall surrounded by other team-related memorabilia.

 Dodgers fans should rejoice because he just announced his latest MLB-approved pieces- Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp.  The screen prints will each be hand-made, signed by Mr. Speakman and limited to just 200 copies.  The fifty-dollar price tag isn’t too unreasonable for the quality of work he provides.

I haven’t bought one for myself yet, but I did buy one of Camden Yards as a present a few years ago and can attest to how great they look in person.  Framing them probably won’t be cheap as they measure 21x17, but would well be worth it. This isn’t something you hang on the wall with thumbtacks.

It would be nice to see him expand into other sports (God knows I’d spend $100 for a Lecavalier) or offer a greater selection in his posters.  But that’s just a minor complaint. Having an artist out there (even if he’s a Red Sox fan) putting out works as creative as his should be appreciated.