Sunday, July 23, 2006


From Around the CFL

I hadn't realised that "The Longest Yard", a movie about a prison football team, was based on the Saskatchewan Roughriders. But apparently 'Riders GM Roy Shivers has been doing his recruiting at the local penatentiary. Last year he turned a blind eye to the actions of HIV-carrying linebacker Trevis Smith, not only deciding to keep his situation a secret from other teams' medical staffs, but also allowing him carouse about the town. Only police custody was able to remove him from the active roster. Now this year running back Kenton Keith has been charged with assault. Most everybody assumed he would be suspended by the team until his trial is concluded, but Shivers had other plans. The fact that this is seen as an organizational embarassment, as well as the lacklustre onfield performance from the team over Shivers' entire tenure as GM would normally be enough to get him fired, but apparently not in Regina. Is it any wonder why this team hasn't cracked the top half of the standings since the 1970s?

Speaking of criminals, howabout Ricky Williams? We were all told about how this NFL star would rampage through CFL defenses, but he has been a complete bust, and now has a broken arm. Only 231 yards up until his injury, and it looks good on Toronto. Let players who've been suspended for numerous NFL drug violations stay off the field. Combine Williams with John Avery and you have a pair of useless RBs making about half a million dollars between them.

How long before Dany Maciocia gets fired? The Eskimos have looked listless and unprepared on offense for every game to date. Their 2-3 record is flattering, yet it could easily be an above .500 3-2. The Esks almost stumbled to victory over Winnipeg, but an unbelieveable 100 yard hail mary pass on the last play of the game gave them a deserved loss. Maciocia seemed unable to explain why they chose to blitz when they could have simply lined up 9 men at midfield and the Blue Bombers wouldn't have had any hope of finding the end zone.

Looks like business as usual for Montreal. The Alouettes are undeafeated through five games, in what is becoming a formality. But despite nearly a decade of jumping out to fantastic starts, the Als have only once captured the Grey Cup and often finish the season the season with a good, but unremarkable record. Will it be the same story this year?

Friday, July 14, 2006


Some Thoughts and World Cup Wrap-Up

The MLB All-Star Game was played on Tuesday. Nobody cares about all-star games in any league anymore. Yet this decides home field advantage for the World Series. The NL side that makes it there needs all the help they can get, but due to the superiority of the AL they always win the all-star giving them even more of an advantage in the fall. It's high time to do away with all these mid-season breaks that do little more than waste time.

The Oilers trade of Chris Pronger for Joffrey Lupul, a good prospect Ladislav Smid, and high draft picks is disappointing in the sense that Edmonton lost on of the games biggest stars. But looking back, Eric Brewer was what Kevin Lowe gave up for Pronger, so Brewer for the afforementioned players and a trip to the Stanley Cup final doesn't look too shabby.

Eskimos coach Dany Maciocia made a couple of surprising cuts in training camp and early in the season in Joe Montford and Donny Brady. Montford is now back and after witnessing the struggles of the secondary Brady's return shouldn't be ruled out of the question. Not exactly looking like a genius, eh Maciocia?

Speaking of the all-star break, it was held in Pittsburgh. Steeltown was a great baseball city for over a century, but after 15 years of losing even the most loyal fans have their patience tested. Of course their struggles are due mainly to the fact that they are a farm team for the likes of New York and Boston. With much of the talk focusing on how the salary system has allowed the Pirates and several other teams to rot, maybe some of the owners will wise up a figure out some sort of system for salary restraint. Major league baseball is on a fast track to destruction with the way things are now, because the sport begins to die when it ceases to be any sort of competition other than who has the biggest wallet.

It's very easy for mild mannered people who've never been in the heat of the action to call Zinedine Zidane a disgrace for his headbutt in the World Cup final. Even though his play was god-like for many years, he is still human at the end of the day. A magnificent career will not be tarnished by one moment of losing control. And seeing as Marco Materazzi is one of the world dirtiest players, not to many people were sad to see him on the ground, even if he was embelishing the incident.

On the topic of diving and embelishment, this World Cup might have hit rock bottom. FIFA should and will have serious discussions as to how to change the direction the game is going. Perhaps a review by officials of questionable fouls after the game to check for fakers would help the problem, with hefty suspensions being handed out to the actors. I dont think it's outrageous to propose certain nations with reputations for diving be banned from competition until they clean up their act. All teams have at least one or two divers, but the theatrics display from some countries (Portugal and the world champions themselves to name a couple) disgrace the entire competition.

And personally, I thought this years edition of the World Cup was quite devoid of great moments or games that will go down as classics. France-Italy was not a bad final, but for most of the second half and extra time Italy sat back and allowed France to attack, but without allowing many great scoring opportunities. From my point of view France controlled most of the game, but was the loser in the end, an outcome that seemed unavoidable after their talisman Zidane was expelled. There were numerous other games as well where one team appeared to be the better, but still lost, sometimes in a shootout or after a questionable call from the official to make matters worse.

The Brazil squad that was supposed to be the team to beat played a grand total of 45 minutes of soccer. They spent the remaining time coasting around the field, though their raw talent still saw them through to the quarter-final after they defeated a much more deserving Ghana.

England managed to stumble their way into the quarter-final as well. They didn't play great, but were still the better team on the field in all of their games. So in typical English fasion they played heroically in a losing cause versus Portugal. Wayne Rooney was sent off controversially but the Brits remianed to better side even with ten men. But they couldn't score for 120 minutes so off to a shoot-out where again no Englishmen found the mark. Their only scorer was Owen Hargreaves...a Canadian. But was their really any doubt they would lose on penalties, their trademark method of exiting tournaments?

So it's onward to 2010 in South Africa. While it is a world cup, maybe it needs to be re-examined on how the continental berths are distributed. Is it reallt necessary to have competitive teams from Europe and South America (Uruguay, Ireland, Denmark to name a few) sitting at home because of the high level of comeptition for qualifying on those two continents, while the likes of Costa Rica, Togo, and Suadi Arabia are only present because somebody else had to qualify from North America, Africa, and Asia? Their are some quality teams in those regions, and they all qualify easily, so why not leave the pretenders at home? In the North American group, the USA and Mexico almost qualify by default due to the huge gap between them and anyone else, while two other teams with little hope of advancing any distance also find themselves in the World Cup. But over in Europe it is often a dogfight for even the best to make it to the last 32, while secondary countries that are still better than the 3rd/4th teams from N. America and Asia have little hope.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


World Cup Final

After nearly a full month of soccer games, France and Italy have emerged as the last two standing and will play for the World Cup.

Italy was one of the pre-tournament favorites, so their participation is not surprising. The Italians have used great goalkeeping from Gianluigi Buffon, solid defense, and timely (and controversial) scoring to reach the final match. The Azzurri drew a tough opening group, but made it through with two wins and a draw. Curiously, the team that troubled them the most was the weakest they faced, the United States. That 1-1 tie was the only game in which the Italians conceded a goal (an own-goal in fact), and is the lone blemish on an otherwise perfect record. Things actually got easier for Italy as they went along, as Australia and Ukraine were their foes for the round of sixteen and the quarter finals. No knock on either of those sides, but they had both gone as far as they could realistically hope. But despite that, Italy needed a late goal to beat the Aussies 1-0; a goal that was the end product of a very questionable penalty call, which was a tough break for Australia who had generated the majority of the chances up until that point. Ukraine put up a fight, but in the end it was a convincing 3-0 victory. That set the stage for a match with the home team Germany. By this point it appeared as though the aura that seems to surround the host at every tournament was going to take Germany to glory, but a goal in final minute of extra time Italy spoiled the party.

France is a much different story. After a weak qualifying campaign, the French were written off by most as too old and slow to win this time around. A pair of disappointing draws to start had their advancement in doubt, but they managed a nervous victory over Togo to squeak through to the elimination round. Their first match-up was against a Spanish team that had breezed through their group with three wins and a goal margin of +7. But like so many times in the past, the Spaniards gassed a game they were heavily favoured to win. They took a 1-0 lead, but rising star Frank Ribery tied the game late in the first half, before Patrick Viera popped the winner in the 82nd minute. Next up was Brazil. The South Americans were expected to win the World Cup yet again, but to this point had played very inconsistent and sloppy. They could only coast for so long, succumbing to France 1-0 and going out with a pathetic wimper. The semi-final opponent would be Portugal, hated by many for the dirty tactics and diving that allowed them to pick up undeserved victories against the Netherlands and England. This time the refs wouldn't fall for the Portuguese play acting, and Zinedine Zidane was the hero with the winner in a 1-0 victory, ironically scored on a border-line penalty call.

So now one of these two undefeated teams will have to lose. For the first time since 1978 (Argentina verses Netherlands) the final will not feature either Brazil or Germany. Italy is looking for their fourth world title and last won it all in 1982. France is in the final for the second time, their previous appearance of course being the win at home eight years ago. These two neighbours played for the European championship in 2000, with France emerging as the winner in extra time. In World Cup '98 France also knocked Italy out in the quarter-final in a shoot-out, so the Mediterranian country has a chance for revenge. Italy will be favoured, but France has had a much tougher road to the final. The Italians have played it pretty consistent from start to finish, while the French seem to be peaking at the right moment after a shaky start. Italy has a clear advantage in goal with Buffon. France's 'keeper Fabian Barthez has only been beaten twice, but has been fighting the ball and messing up easy plays throughout the tournament. If not goaltending, the x-factor in this match could be the midfield play of old Zidane, who still has some magic left in his weary legs, versus that of Italian midfielder Francesco Totti. He has been solid, but not quite what you would expect out of a man reputed as one of the world's best, though of course one game could change all that. Both teams' stingy defense should mean a low-scoring affair. France seems to be the team of destiny right now, so I predict a 1-0 French victory to complete an unlikely triumph. Allez Les Bleus!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Free Agent Follies

In the world of the NHL, July 1st and the days following have provided plenty of absurd and sometimes downright laughable contracts handed out to free agents. Like in the past, many players, especially defensemen have been grossly overpaid by eager GMs. The good news is, with a salary cap in place many of these foolish teams will use up all of their cap room and get little return. They will only punish themselves instead of the small markets that can't pay up to the same extent.

Most Overpaid:

Ed Jovanovski, Phoenix, $6.5 million. So Ed has gone to the desert where he will earn more per season than Chris Pronger. When he's healthy he's a good point producer, but far from a rock defensively (minus 8 in 44 games last season). Certainly not worth franchise player type money.

Pavel Kubina, Toronto, $5 million. Did anybody else even notice that this guy, who has never cracked the 40-point barrier, was a free agent? If five goals and a -12 rating get you five million, fellow Leaf teammate Tomas Kaberle didn't get the memo, because he signed for less after a 67 point campaign. Apparently John Ferguson Jr thinks the Leafs need another defensive liability on the back end, and this one's not even all that high scoring.

Willie Mitchell, Vancouver, $3.5 million. I still chuckle to myself. Mitchell is a good defensive blueliner, but he's no Larry Robinson, despite what his price tag may suggest.

Karel Rachunek, NY Rangers, $1.8 million. It cost how much to lure this guy out of northern Russia? (He played last year in Yaroslavl)

Joe Corvo, Ottawa, $2.5 million. Caught fire for one season playing the point on the powerplay with Lubomir Visnovsky in LA. Ottawa reportedly wouldn't budge on their $6 million per season offer to Chara, but turned around and gave a relative no-name half of that.

Jay McKee, St. Louis, $4 million. See Willie Mitchell. Though at least McKee had a good playoff run on his resume.

And to think, those are just the defensemen. The worst in terms of vision for the future has to be St. Louis GM Larry Pleau. He goes out a re-acquires Doug Weight at the assanine sum of $3.5 million a year. If there needed to be any more proof at all that Weight, only a third liner at this point, plays hockey solely for the money and nothing more, it has got to be this. So who joins him? His good buddy Bill Guerin, who has never once made a team he played for any better than they were before. Keep in mind that Keith Tkachuk is still there. These three amigos should create a nice circus in Missouri this season. Oh yeah, and of course there's McKee, a good player but way overpaid. Last place teams tend to get younger and faster, the Blues decided to get older and slower. At least Pleau should have Ferguson to join him in the unemployment line by Christmas. In addition to Kubina's idiotic contract, JFJ also handed goalie Andrew Raycroft a three year, $6 million deal. The same Raycroft who was unwanted on the lowly Bruins and was picked up for the pricely sum of a draft pick. Just how many more agents are going to pull a con-job on this Mike Milbury impersonator?

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