Tuesday, October 10, 2006



Link to my most recent Hockey's Future article.


Sunday, October 08, 2006


Yankee$ Finished

Well, my prediction that the Yankees would beat the Tigers was wrong, and I couldn't be happier. The biggest joke in professional sports just reached a new low this weekend, bowing out to the Tigers 3-1. After taking the opener, the Yankees "invincible" batting line-up scored only 6 more runs in the rest of the series, and three of those were meaningless tallies at the end of the deciding game. The approximately $45 million trio of Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi each had one hit in the opening game and were hitless the rest of the way. Gary Sheffield and Bobby Abreu were irrelevent, as was Johnny Damon who was pirated away from Boston after he burned the Yankees in the 2004 post-season. All those big bats proved useless, because Yankee GM Bryan Cashman somehow manages to spend double what his nearest competitor spends without acquiring any reliable pitching. The addage that "pitching wins championships" is reinforced year after year, but ignored by New York. Aside from veteran Mike Mussina and young Chien-Ming Wang, the Yanks were sending question marks to the mound. Looking back, it was fairly easy to see that the Tigers only needed to beat one of those two (Mussina, in game 2) to have a very good chance at winning the series. I figured that Detroit's pitchers, while clearly better than New York's, were tired and the Yankees would be able to slug their way past them. As I said, pitching wins championships, but hitting can often win in the earlier rounds. The Tigers were a sub-.400 ball club for the last six weeks of the season, and lost five in a row heading into the playoffs. The Yankees, meanwhile, had pummelled Boston in mid-August to take control of the division and never looked back. Even after several years of disappointment in the playoffs, this appeared to be a series that the Yankees just wouldn't let slip away. But lo and behold, almost everyone in their line-up slumped/choked at the same time and the Yankees went down with a wimper and all baseball fans of good conscience can rejoice.

$976 000 000: The amount of money the Yankees have spent on players over the last 6 years, nearly a billion dollars.

0: The number of World Series championships they have won in that same stretch.

3-10: The post-season win-loss record of the Yankees after they demolished Boston 19-8 in game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, which gave them an "insurmountable" 3-0 series advantage. Maybe the Curse of the Bambino has reversed itself.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Northwest Division

Northwest Division Preview:

Edmonton - The Oilers have not finished atop their division since Wayne Gretzky was on the team, but they have a chance to do so this year. Despite the loss of Chris Pronger, the Oilers are an improved team from the one that nearly won the Stanley Cup. They will now be a force offensively after adding Joffrey Lupul and Petr Sykora who are both more than capable of 30- goal seasons. Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff could both be point-per-game players while Ryan Smyth, Raffi Torres, Jaret Stoll, and others all add toughness and scoring ability. The Oilers defense definately took a big hit, but should still be adequate. Matt Greene enters the season as a top-6 defender for the first time and could have a breakout season after experience gained in the playoffs. The rest of the group is solid defensively, with only Marc-Andre Bergeron a scoring threat, but Oiler forwards will get enough goals that the blueline only needs to worry about keeping them out of their own net. That task will be made that much easier now that Dwayne Roloson gives the Oilers a quality starting goaltender, which alone cost the Oilers 10 points in the standings last year. Edmonton now has the momentum from the spring and as long as they avoid a let-down, they will be in the hunt again next spring.

Calgary - The Battle of Alberta should be at its best in 15 years now that both the Flames and Oilers are potent teams once again. Calgary takes exactly the opposite approach to Edmonton, however. The Flames will hope to ride Mikka Kiprusoff again this season and rely on their tough defense to keep opponents under control. Dion Phaneuf is a star in the making, and Robyn Regehr and Rhett Warrener solidify the defense corps. The Flames got some help for Jarome Iginla over the summer by trading for Alex Tanguay. Those two and Daymond Langkow should provide a scoring line that can also play physically. After that, the Flames are loaded with players who are strong defensively even if they lack scoring ability. As long as the top line produces as they should, Calgary should be able to grind out 2-0 and 3-1 games much like last year, though that lack of offense cost them in the playoffs. They hope Tanguay will help to prevent that from happening again. The battle between them and Edmonton should be fierce and come down to the wire.

Minnesota - The Wild had a big off-season, turning themselves from an also-ran into a team capable of winning their division. They are strong in goal with Manny Fernandez the clear cut starter now that Roloson is no longer sharing duties with him. The defense was improved with the signings of Kim Johnsson and Keith Carney, but the biggest improvment was definitely at forward. The days of the trap appear to be over for the moment now that the Wild suddenly boast two capable scoring lines after Mark Parrish and Pavol Demitra were signed to compliment Marian Gaborik, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Brian Rolston. Coach Jaques Lemaire's demand for defensive responsibility has been ground into many of the Wild players from previous years, so as a whole they should be a very good two-way team. Minnesota made the conference finals three years ago with a lesser team than they have now, so they should not be taken lightly. They should make it back to the playoffs, and could even be considered a dark-horse pick for the Stanley Cup.

Colorado - The Avalanche, now without the services of Rob Blake and Alex Tanguay seem to be in a gradual decline, and this could well be the year they fall out of the playoffs. They still have Joe Sakic, but even he can be expected to slow down one of these days. Milan Hejduk and Marek Svatos are both snipers, but after those three there is a big drop off in skilled forwards. The one position the Avalnche did upgrade was the blueline by acquiring Jordan Leopold, but at the expense of Tanguay. John-Michael Liles provides a good power play quarterback, and Karlis Skrastins, Brett Clark, and Ossi Vaananen's defensive abilities are under-rated. But perhaps most crucial to Colorado's success is the play of Jose Theodore. If he can rediscover the magic like another goalie named Patrick Roy did when he was traded 10 years ago, the Avs are definitely a playoff contender. But if he's the Theodore that got shipped out of Montreal after they eventually got fed up with his inconsistent play, Colorado is in trouble.

Vancouver - The Canucks are in a similar situation to the Avalanche. They have four good scoring forwards in Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison, and the Sedin's, but after that the forward position has to be a cause for concern. While guys like Matt Cooke and Trever Linden might be good role players, the Canucks are going to need scoring from somewhere, and it wont be from their grinders. The previously solid defense is now no better than average after the departure of Ed Jovanovski. Mattias Ohlund, Willie Mitchell, and Sami Salo are a decent top-3, but if any of them get injured for an extended period of time the Canucks are in trouble. Roberto Luongo is a Vezina candidate in net, but he might not be as big of an upgrade is some people suspect. Dan Cloutier, for all the flack he took, was actually a pretty decent goaltender, at least in the regular season. As a whole, GM Dave Nonis has done a pretty fine job of turning the division winner that Brian Burke left him into a team that is unlikely to make the playoffs. The distraction that was Todd Bertuzzi will not be missed, but his points undoubtedly will be, as will Anson Carter's 30 goals. Unless Luongo records 15 shutouts, the Canucks will be golfing in April.

Top 8 in the West...................... Top 8 in the East

1. San Jose ................................1. Buffalo
2. Nashville ..............................2. Carolina
3. Edmonton ............................3. Philadelphia
4. Anaheim ..............................4. Ottawa
5. Calgary ................................5. Tampa Bay
6. Minnesota ...........................6. NY Rangers
7. Dallas ..................................7. New Jersey
8. Detroit ................................8. Boston

Stanley Cup: San Jose over Buffalo


Southeast Division

Southeast Division Preview:

Carolina - As the defending champs, the Hurricanes can be expected to win their division but they might not be quite as good this time around after losing Matt Cullen, Aaron Ward, and Martin Gerber. The offense will be powerful with Eric Staal as a scoring title candidate as well as Erik Cole, Justin Williams, and Ray Whitney to contribute. Cory Stillman can be added to that list in the second half of the season when he returns from injury. Rod Brind'Amour and Scott Walker add toughness and scoring ability as well. The defense is devoid of any star power, but that didn't matter last year as defense by commitee led them to the Stanley Cup, though Frantisek Kaberle will miss the first three months with an injured shoulder. Cam Ward should be the number one goalie now that Martin Gerber is gone, but backup John Grahame should see some time as well. If the Hurricanes can stay the course with Ward in net, they will be a threat to repeat, especially when Stillman and Kaberle return.

Tampa Bay - The Lightning have completely flown under the radar after last season's pitiful attempt at defending the Cup. Few people are considering them a threat at all, but the Lightning could surprise. The most noticable change will be in goal. Marc Denis gives them a bonafide top-15 goaltender, unlike last year where John Grahame and Sean Burke were costing them games. The defense is not great, but should get the job done, and Dan Boyle and free agent Filip Kuba will provide ample offense. The forwards will be led by two excellent scoring lines. Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier are one of the best one-two punches at center in the league, and 2004 MVP Martin St. Louis could rebound after a disappointment last season. Even last year where a lot went wrong the Lightning still made the playoffs, and they should do the same this year, possibly challenging the Hurricanes for top spot.

Florida - The Panthers' biggest off-season move was obviously acquiring Todd Bertuzzi for Roberto Luongo, but they probably wont be that much better off. Alex Auld and Ed Belfour will split goaltending duties, but neither will be able to replace Luongo. The Panthers defense is unheralded, but Jay Bouwmeester could have a breakout year after a few years of slowly improving. Olli Jokinen and Bertuzzi should form a good top line that boasts great size, but after those two there are question marks. Nathan Horton could emerge in the same way Eric Staal did last year, but after himself and Steven Weiss who was having a good year
in 2005-06 until he got hurt, the Panthers are thin. Unless of course Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, and Chris Gratton discover the fountain of youth. Florida was in the hunt for a playoff spot last year, but that was with Luongo stealing 1-0 games. They don't have that luxury this year, so the scorers need to step up if they have any hope of reaching the playoffs.

Atlanta - The Thrashers seem to take one step forward and two steps back. They were very close to the playoffs last year, missing out thanks to a bad start caused by all of their goaltenders getting hurt. So you'd think this year they'd take the final step, but they lost 97-point producer Marc Savard to free agency. Steve Rucchin will not replace him. Goalie Kari Lehtonen will have to stay healthy this year, and perform up to the capabilities that got him drafted in the first round a few years ago. The defense is not high scoring, but they can take care of their own zone, and traded for hard-hitting Vitaly Vishnevski from Anaheim. Up front it will be a two man show, the two being Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa. They are both capable of 100-point seasons, but aside from possibly Slava Kozlov, there are no other sure things at forward. Unless the Thrashers get a Vezina-candidate season out of Lehtonen, they will likely not have
enough scoring to get into the playoffs.

Washington - The Capitals were bad last season, but in reality they actually over-achieved. Unfortunately they did nothing to improve the team over the summer. Olaf Kolzig will be going at it alone again this year because the defense is still a crew that looks like it belongs in the AHL. There's potential in Mike Green, Steve Eminger, and Shaone Morrisonn, but they're certainly not ready to carry the load by themselves. Brian Pothier was signed away from Ottawa and appears to inherit the number one defenseman tag. At forward the situation is a little more promising with Alexander Ovechkin. At least Danius Zubrus, Alexander Semen, and Chris Clark might be able to impersonate first-liners playing with Ovechkin. There are also several young forwards capable of a break-out year. The Capitals had plenty of cap space available to try to improve the team, and the fact they they didn't do anyhting with it makes you question their commitment to winning. It will be another long year, but there's at least a little hope
that Ovechkin will score 200 goals and get the Caps to the playoffs.

Monday, October 02, 2006


MLB Playoffs

October has finally arrived, and after 162 games baseball's playoffs are here. The Blue Jays came up short, but finished 2nd ahead of the Red Sox as opposed to 3rd place where they've been stuck for years. The Astros nearly overcome a seemingly insurmountable deficit in the final week, but the Cardinals held on for the NL Central, while the Tigers gassed the AL Central to Minnesota over the weekend but still got the wild card spot.

In the American League the Twins look good right now. They have the the best pitcher in the game right now in Johan Santana, plus batting champion Joe Mauer and MVP candidate Justin Morneau. After Santana the rest of the pitching staff is average, but they only need to keep the Twins in the game until their excellent bullpen can take over in later innings. If their other ace pitcher Francisco Liriano hadn't gone down for the season in August, they would be almost unbeatable.

The Athletics will take on Minnesota in the first round. They too have a great starting pitching staff with Barry Zito, Rich Harden, and company, but lack the lights-out ace that their opponent has in Santana. Their offense is also mediocre which puts extra pressure on the pitchers. In the past the A's have won their division repeatedly but failed to advance in the post-season, but with good pitching you always have a chance.

The Tigers will take on the Yankees after blowing their division on Sunday. Two months ago they looked headed to the World Series, but have slumped down the stretch and their pitching staff appears tired. It certainly doesn't help that they'll face the league's best offense and start on the road in Yankee Stadium. The Tigers need to hope their pitchers can find a second wind or it could be a short series. But the Yankees pitching staff, while respecable, is probably the worst out of the four AL teams. Somehow they again managed to spend $200 million on players while failing to build a pitching staff that can take them all the way. They might be able to home-run their way past Detroit, but Oakland or Minnesota would likely beat them in a best of 7. Here's hoping for and predicting another quiet October in the Bronx.

The National League is tougher to predict this year. The Braves are an option but...oh wait, they finally missed the playoffs. The Mets would be the front-runners, but ace pitcher Pedro Martinez is out with injury. That's good news for their division series opponents, the LA Dodgers. The Dodgers had a big second half to come from the basement into the playoffs and pitchers Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, and Greg Maddux give them a good starting rotation. They dont have the most explosive offense, but get timely hitting which is key. The Mets have clearly the most power from their bats, but Martinez being out leaves a huge hole in the rotation. It has been shown in the past that hitting can take you a round or even two in the playoffs, but at the end of the day pitching will always prevail.

The Cardinals limp into the playoffs and head to San Diego to battle the Padres. Last season the Cards swept the Padres in the opening round, but it could be a different story this year. San Diego is probably the most pitching-dependent team in the NL playoffs. Their offense is weak, but they only need to score a few runs with a staff that is deep throughout. St. Louis isn't bad on the mound but will need heavy hitters Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen to be in fine form to make up the deficit in the pitching department. It can't be ignored that the Cardinals are coming into the playoffs in a big slump either.


Yankees 3, Tigers 2
Twins 3, Athletics 1
Dodgers 3, Mets 2
Padres 3, Cardinals 1

The Twins will take the AL pennant and beat the NL pennant winners the Dodgers for the World Series.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Central Division

Central Division Preview

Nashville - The Predators continue to improve every year and have become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Thomas Vokoun is one of the top five goalies in the league and if he hadn't got injured late last year the Predators could have made some noise in the playoffs. He should be a Vezina candidate this season. Nashville is very deep at all forward positions with three very capable scoring lines after signing Jason Arnott and JP Dumont in the off-season. Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan fit in well to the style of the NHL right now and can produce at point-per-game clips. The defense is clearly the weakest part of the team. Marek Zidlicky and Kimmo Timonen are servicable but are not exactly studs back there. There is a lot of potential in Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis, and Shea Weber but sometimes too many green defensemen causes problems. There is little depth in case of injury as well. The Predators should win their division because of their scoring ability, but GM David Poile will need to pick up another blueliner heading into the playoffs.

Detroit - The glory days officially ended this spring when the Oilers sent the Wings packing in the first round. That would be the last time Steve Yzerman and Brenden Shanahan would play for Detroit. This years Wings come in completely devoid of any toughness what-so-ever, but have enough skill players that they should still make the playoffs. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Robert Lang should provide a good offensive attack while Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby form a good checking tandem. The defense still has Nicklas Lidstrom and other recognizable names, but is definately long in the tooth as a whole. If Lidstrom ever slowed down the defense could become problematic, but for now he's able to carry them. In goal the Red Wings might have made a big mistake in replacing Manny Legace with Dominik Hasek. It is only a question of when, not if, he will get injured. Chirs Osgood is a very good back-up, but he's also nearing the end of his career. The Wings should be back in the post-season 16th consecutive year, but they are no doubt the NHL's softest team and a first round exit will be imminent.

Columbus - The Blue Jackets continue to plod along in mediocrity and patience is begining the wear thin amongst the fan base. They need to step up this year and become competitive. With Rick Nash there is that possibility, but as a whole their forward crop doesn't scare anyone. Sergei Fedorov's best days are behind him, and No. 2 center Gilbert Brule is a raw rookie. Anson Carter, David Vyborny, and Fredrik Modin will provide some support, but the key might be the play of Nikolai Zherdev who could become a star this year. The defense is adequate with Adam Foote to play defense and Bryan Berard to score points, but is not overly deep. In net the Blue Jackets need to hope Pascal Leclaire comes through on the potential that allowed Columbus to trade away Marc Denis. Overall, Columbus has what it takes to be competitive but the playoff drought will probably continue.

Chicago - The Blackhawks are looking to rebound from a horrible year near the bottom of the league just when it looked like they might have turned the corner. In net they have Nikolai Khabibulin who needs to remember how to play goal after a brutal 2005-06 season. If he does, the Hawks have one of the best in the league. The defense is thin, but if Adrain Aucoin returns to form and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook build off of excellent rookie seasons, they shouldn't cost Chicago any number of games. At forward new acquisitions Martin Havlat and Michal Handzus need to produce. Tuomo Ruutu is a dangerous player if he could ever stay healthy, but that doesn't generally happen. Rene Bourque was a pleasant rookie surprise last year and needs to avoid the sophomore jinx. It appears as though Eric Daze is going to retire due to recurring back problems which leaves some production to be replaced. Even if everybody lives up to expectations the Hawks probably still aren't going to be competing for a playoff spot and will maintain their spot near the bottom of the conference.

St. Louis - Apparently the Blues forgot they were rebuilding in the summer and went out and signed up several 30+ year olds, including Doug Weight and Bill Guerin. Those two, along with Keith Tkachuk are probably more concerned with having a good time than winning at this point, and it remains unclear as to what the Blues saw in Radek Dvorak and Martin Rucinsky that they couldn't get out of a younger player with some upside. The defense is under-rated and is the Blues' strength if Eric Brewer and Barrett Jackman stay healthy. In goal Manny Legace is a solid but not spectacualr starter, but he'll need to be good on most nights to give the Blues a chance to win. After witnessing the Penguins performance of last year, there's no reason to believe that the Blues' veteran experiment wont blow up in their faces and land them back in the basement of the Western conference.

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