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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Brian Burke and the Media Orgy In Toronto: STFU

Quick post because it's way past my bed time. Seriously, I'm not accountable for this unpolished rant. Enjoy...

How many times have you heard some surly, unmotivated journo describe sports executives as the 'men behind the scenes'? What happens to an organization where these men step out from behind the curtain and assume center stage? Bobby Clark told the TSN audience tonight that it's big trouble for the organizational chemistry, I think its a storyline that's nauseating.

You can probably infer I'm talking about Brian Burke, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the decisions being made by television producers, newspaper editors and anyone with a pulse also in the sports-related media.

They have all gone too far. I'm about as interested in Brian Burke's personal life as I am in knowing the taste of my own feces. Information pertaining to his dietary standards, familial relationships inclusive to both wives and sets of children and his Thanksgiving plans have no place in a sports broadcast. You are there to analyze the game, talk smack about the fight of the night and solo-effort game winners, please save your tabloid commentary for Sunday Tea.

I recognize that MacKenzie, Dreger, Kipreos, Cox, Shoalts and Simmons all want to be Brian Burke. Others pretend to hate him, but incessantly pollute their programming with Brian Burke banter. They've assessed and diagnosed, investigated and proclaimed, marginalized and condemned everything from drafting the Sedins to the piece of lint floating on the surface of his spittoon (which contains Straight Skoal, because that's what badass lawyers from Harvard chew).

The opportunity to run the biggest franchise in its sports is a monumental event, and I'm glad the media has capitalized on this. However, appealing to the lower common denominator with CCN-like saturation of an unfounded and speculative nature is shitty journalism and it's bad programming. Step your game up.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

All-NHL Podcast: Studs and Shockers

Length~ 22mins.

Topics: Pretty well a complete recap of the NHL landscape, with some notable highlights:

Eastern Shockers -- Thomas and the Bruins, the struggling Flyers, Penguins and a brief look at the other playoff contenders.

Western Front -- Vancouver and Dallas: Righting my wrongs, What Cup hangover for Detroit?, How good are the Sharks?

XMp3 Review to go with this from earlier in the week. Cheers and Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Free Agent Pitchers: Blue Jays need a new Wing

Updated: 11/19/08:
And by wing I mean arm, but you should have known.

There are several arms available, but the value is not there for most of them. Sabathia, Burnett, Sheets, Dempster, Lowe, Moyer and Johnson complete the list of reasonable choices for JP Riccardi and the Blue Jays. When you get below the surface of these men you're really looking into some skeleton-filled lockers.

Sabathia and Burnett have been marathon men over the last two seasons. In fact, they have literally thrown more innings in the past two years than any other in the MLB. "Carbs and Calories" Sabathia and his cohort "Agitated Jerk" Burnett blew past career highs in IP in pretty impressive fashion last season -- C.C. in an effort to push the Brewers to the World Series, and A.J. attempting to aid the Jays' futile playoff drive. These two are perched atop the risk:reward pyramid with abused and potentially fragile arms and due a Kings ransom. Let the Yankees have them both, as I wouldn't be shocked if either man supplies the highest bidder a full compliment of starts (in Burnetts case I'll set the prop at 22 starts +/-, 25 for CC).

Sheets and Dempster are in the second tier -- notably, the one which I think offers the most tolerable risk (on a cost basis, of course). Sheets can hurl with the elite class of SP's in the major leagues, but has stumbled with injury recently (22,17,24 starts in 05-07, with 31 last season posting a solid 13-8, 3.09 ERA, 1.15 WHIP). The only way you should price Burnett above Sheets is if you've been seduced by the formers' stuff (and almost everyone is).

Ryan Dempster is another fiery right-hander with an interesting past. He started a mere 6 games in the four seasons from '04-'07 posting staggeringly high ERA coming out of the bullpen, most often in a closing role. The case for Dempster as a Blue Jays is an interesting one, and I can't pretend to possess sufficient insight to diagnose it correctly, so lets roll play.

Dempster's Agent: Coming out of the bullpen reduced the volume of innings he's thrown over his career, his ERA is historically lower when starting, playing in his home country would provide a comfortable atmosphere and ensure performance.

JP Riccardi: There is added pressure with pitching in Canada for Canadians and given his weak performance in the clutch during the playoffs I am doubtful of your last assumption. Also, we have a stocked bullpen and thin rotation, if Dempster struggles demotion is not an option. When coupled to the anomaly that was his most recent season, why should I pull the trigger on your boy?

Dempsters Agent: Pleeeease, have you checked the ticker recently? My investments are in the shitter and I need this commission like I've got the clap and it's the cure!

JP: Fine, 25mil over three years. Team option after year one and two...

End tangent. Bottom line is that Sheets trumps Dempster in nearly every category. I expect both will pitch slightly above average as a 2nd, 3rd man in whatever rotation they end up in.

Lowe, Moyer and Johnson are the grizzled veterans lingering for another kick at the can. Granted, Lowe is only 36 and clearly a better option than the ageless lefty's listed above. Lowe -- unfortunately for the Blue Birds -- has many suitors which could elevate his price north of Sheets-Dempster, while remaining to the South of Burnetts' plunder. Having pitched in the AL East before gives Lowe a considerable advantage over those new to such a daunting task. That being said, if Moyer or Johnson are willing to come North and bring their rubber arms with them, I'd welcome a grandfather-like figure who'd be willing to take a more vocal leadership role (I'm thinking Johnson could be one of the best player-coaches in baseball history and all he'd have to do is glare at people!).

A list, to capitulate all my speculation, non-sense and postulation. If I am JP, here's where I'm at:

1. Ben Sheets (rumours around Texas and Milwakee at the moment. Incentives will be the name of the game for this guy and his hamstring-of-the-arm tear. Flaky elbows aren't in line for solid dough.)

2. Derek Lowe (Boras client is asking 5-year at 18 mil per. Not really a surprise given the market, but I'm certain that prices him out of the range Riccardi would stomach. 4 years at 15 per might be a little more reasonable, but I'd let the Braves have him at that price.)

3. Ryan Dempster (signed 4 years, $52mil with the Cubs. Good luck, I hope for everyones sake he's healthy and can reproduce his walk-year performance... About that, Cubbies fans don't like my gut.)

3. Randy Johnson (Dodgers are reportedly interested, Angels are not. Cubs are "on the short list" according to his agent who is clearly fishing for offers after the Diamonbacks shortchanged them with 25% of the $8M/year he wanted.)

4. Jamie Moyer (Looks like he'll stay kozy and re-sign in Philly. Might be asking multi-year in excess of the $7M he was awarded last year. Dude, retire on top fo the game, you'll be 46 next year! Why does no one respect the Elway-way anymore?)

5. AJ Burnett (from MLB.com "As of Wednesday morning, every American League East team except Tampa Bay, plus the Phillies and Braves, were believed to be prepared to make an offer or were considering making an offer for Burnett." This will get interesting... he might fetch 16-18 million a season. WOW, he not coming back for that price.)

6. CC Sabathia
(six-year, $140mil offer from the Yankees on the table. Reckon the Angels could steal him for $130?)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Triumphant Return + XMp3 Satellite Radio and Mp3 Player


After my annual Fall hiatus I am back in my home after visiting Vancouver, Seattle, Whistler, Banff, Calgary and everywhere in between. It was a far cry from my trip to Australia and New Zealand last year, but it was still incredible.

I got the pleasure of visiting both Qwest Field (Nov 02, V. Eagles) and Pengrowth Saddledome (Flames v. Leafs on Nov 11th). Tons to say about both of those and I will do so in their own posts very shortly.

While away I was contacted by Matchstick Marketing and asked to review the new XMP3 device from XM Satellite Radio (availble in stores in the next few months, my guess is before Xmas). It arrived today and I want to get my initial impressions off while still fresh (pics and video to come as well).

The device itself it very similar in size to a Blackberry Pearl. It is small enough to be portable, but offers a rich display with solid color and good contrast. The quality of the earbuds is worth noting as I was very impressed. They are in-ear with cushioned, noise-reducing synthetic plugs which surround the audio-producing portion of the bud. The sound is robust making both music and talk sound much better than standard radio and almost on par with my iPod.

While moving around the house I did experience some inconsistency with the reception. I assume going outside will alleviate some of this, but have yet to get out and about with it. I will report back on this, and other long-term observations (battery life, etc) very shortly so stay tuned.

More sports to come, including this weeks ALL NHL podcast very shortly. Cheers, Derek.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

AL Playoff Breakdown: Youth v. Experience, Power v. Power.

Hurray for my 1-year Anniversary as a sports blogger! My first post was a year-ago to the day and can be found here for those curious of my humble beginnings.

The American League
There are some serious match-ups between the heavyweights in the strong AL: Can the Angels follow their 100-win season by finally defeating the Red Sox? Are the Rays going to prove themselves as one of the best young teams ever, or will the streaky-Chi Sox roll them with their veteran poise? The answers lie within...

Los Angeles Angels v. Boston Red Sox
-- For the third time since 2004 these two clubs are battling in the shortened-divisional series. This go around however the Angels feel like they're due to get the upper hand, and certainly have it when it comes to starting pitching with three excellent and reliable starters (Santana, Saunders and Lackey). The addition of Mark Teixeira and Torii Hunter (two of their top-3 bats to go alongside Vlad Guerrero) is also sure to improve the outcome for the Angels. Many are concerned with a lack of intensity from the Angels after slaughtering their abysmal division and waltzing into the playoffs, but these players know what on the line and Scioscia will have them ready to play.

The Red Sox are the defending champs and are playing like they yearn for another. There are incredibly balanced as exemplified by their regular-season numbers all atop the
league: hitting (3rd in RS/G, 5th VORP), pitching (3rd VORP) and defence (7th RA/G, 5th by efficiency). They are suffering from the wear-and-tear that goes along with (being old and) making the playoffs 5-of-6 seasons with Lowell and Drew below-top health, and their Ace Josh Beckett starting game three due to physical set-backs (they say oblique, I say his arm is still bothering him).

Other Notable players: K-Rod and Pap (the closers for each team will be pivotal to holding slim leads under pressure). The Managers: two of the finest in all of baseball will joust until the bitter end.

Grading The Edge:
Starters: Angels A+ , Red Sox A
Bullpen: Angels A , Red Sox B+
Bats: Angels A, Red Sox A
Winner: Angels in 5

-- The Angels are too talented and well-managed to blow it AGAIN vs. the Sox (who aren't as strong in the rotation as previous years w/o Beckett and Shilling).


Tampa Bay Rays vs. Chicago White Sox

-- this is scary series to pontificate on since there are two arguments that could easily be made:
1. Despite their inexperience, the Rays are plainly too solid to lose.
2. The veteran core of the White Sox just strung together 3 victories in succession under must-win circumstances, therefore they are apt win as the underdog.

The Rays are everything you think: young, confident, loaded with potential and well-built. They win with pitching (2nd VORP with Shields, Kazmir, Garza and Sonnanstine) and defense (1st by efficiency) and don't lose at home (21-3 down the stretch at Tropicana). The Chi-Sox on the other hand win with their veteran sluggers (most homers in the MLB thanks to Quentin (out), Thome and Dye).

When young pitchers face experienced hitters the convention wisdom might favour the latter. I am confident this series will contradict that school of thought with the spry Rays' talent and efficiency trumping the gritty effectiveness of the White Sox.

Other Notable players: Gavin Floyd (a young stud SP who could steal a win in Game 3 v. Matt Garza). BJ Upton (needs to avoid the inconsistency we've seen this year).

Grading The Edge:
Starters: Rays A+, White Sox B+
Bullpen: Rays A-, White Sox A-
Bats: Rays A , White Sox A
Winner: Rays in 5

-- I think the White Sox will chase a starter once and squeeze out another, but the Rays are too strong to go down.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The NHL Franchise Fire Sale of 2008.

There is no secret that people are losing a lot of money in the US right now. Consider that alongside the state of several conceivably insolvent NHL franchises. Phoenix, Tampa and Atlanta are barely scraping by at the best of times -- there screwed now that people aren't spending their money.

What about franchises in regions that have been hit hard with foreclosures? There are two teams in California, notwithstanding the surrounding areas of Detroit or Florida where corporate dollars are scarce and the fan base is frugal. Its a tough way to run a franchise and they talked about the pressure of the economic on the Fan 590 today (credit to McCown, Brunt and Kypreos) when the trio threw out the figure of 8 or 9 franchises which could be for sale courtesy of cash-deprived owners looking down the barrel of a creditors gun.

Awesome. There is nothing better for hockey than leaving poor sunbelt cities. Full Stop. Contraction and subsequent re-location would be a legacy event: some suit in on the NHL board of governors would get a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame uprooting these failing teams and sending them over the pacific.

Hockey in Europe

Their economy is shaky as well but the NHL in Europe should be made to work. If the NHL was really smart, they would institute relegation in a fashion modeled after the European Premier Leagues. It's crazy and bold, but it will work if crafted appropriately.

MLB Playoffs: Manny v. the Curse; Howard v. Fielder.

I've been wrestling with these MLB picks for almost a week and am pretty much spinning my wheels. It could be a product of the parity, or a measure of my own aversion to the National League; whatever the problem it's about to be resolved. On the eve of the 2008 MLB Playoffs, here are your picks...

The National League

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Milwaukee Brewers

-- how about a round of applause for these two teams! It's a miracle that two clubs with such horrendous starting pitching made it this far. If you've caught a highlight pack in the last month you'll know that Sabathia would win the Cy Young had he played the entire year in the NL (since coming over, 11-2; K/BB- 5.12; ERA-1.65; WHIP -1.00). He is the reason the Brewers are in the playoffs, which is highly commendable and unfortunate. If history has its way, Sabathia's heavy workload will catch up with him and the Brewers will look back on this series knowing he threw too many innings, too frequently to continue at such a savage pace.

A contrast of the bats on either club is a tub of war with the girth and power of Howard balanced by Prince Fielder, the speed and consistency of Utley nearly matched from Ryan Braun and capable shortstops Rollins v. Hardy nearly sawing off one another's contribution. Because the Phillies have a decided edge in overall pitching (starting by a mite, bullpen by a mile) this series will likely end with the Brewers taking a splash and the Phillies taking a shower (in their celebratory bubbly).

Other notable players to watch: Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge (Phillies Ace and lock down closer, respectively), Eric Gagne and Salomon Torres (the gas cans in the Brewers bullpen).

Grading The Edge:
Starters: Phillies B-, Brewers C
Bullpen: Phillies A, Brewers C-
Bats: Phillies A, Brewers A
Winner: Phillies in 4


Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
-- from two of the biggest metropolises on Earth emanates a pair of the most intriguing story lines in baseball: Manny and the Curse.

Man-Ram has stormed LA like an a Mexican who just leapt the fence -- and the Dodgers are loving it. The ball park is his domain and all Manny has done is affirm his dominance of the batters box (since the trade: AB-187; Hits-74; HR-17; RBI-53; AVG.-396; OPS-1.232).

The Cubs are resisting the omnipresent force of their 100-year Championship-less drought. With the guidance of Lou Piniella working the bench and the best starting pitching remaining in the NL (Dempster, Zambrano, Harden, Lilly) they will get themselves one step closer to breaking their unparalleled streak of futility.

Other notable players to watch: Micah Hoffpauir (Cubs rookie with a hot bat), Aramis Ramirez (Cubs offensive MVP), Russell Martin (Dodgers catcher, best-all around players in LA), Jeff Kent and Rafael Furcal (both on the active playoff roster, but injured).

Grading The Edge:
Starters: Cubs A+, Dodgers A
Bullpen: Cubs B+, Dodgers A-
Bats: Cubs A, Dodgers B
Winner: Cubs in 4


Check out the radio show tonight at 6pm by clicking here. Also, subscribe here to have the American League edition send to you tomorrow. Cheers, Derek.

Friday, September 26, 2008

NHL Western Preview [Podcast]

Everything. Division breakdown, final points standings. Hint: The Kings are brutal and the Red Wings look good... Listen at your own risk:

Thanks for listening, more to come next week. -- Derek

Thursday, September 18, 2008

All-NHL Podcast: Full Eastern Conference Preview

From the material posted previously comes an audio version of the 2008-2009 NHL Eastern Conference outlook. Listening is leisurely, so do it.

Thanks for listening. Check out the Western Conference version next week by subscribing here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

NHL Western Conf. Projected Standing (+ Links).

For the detailed analysis of how these numbers came to be, check out Part IV: Central, Part V: Pacific, and Part VI: Northwest.

Otherwise, here is a comprehensive forward projection of the 2008-2009 NHL season. Enjoy.

1. Detroit Red Wings.............49-25-8, 1st Central.............106pts

2. Dallas Stars.......................48-26-8, 1st Pacific...............104pts

3. Calgary Flames......................44-27-11, 1st NW..................99pts

4. San Jose Sharks....................46-27-9, 2nd Pacific..............101pts

5. Anaheim Ducks....................44-30-8, 3rd Pacific...............96pts

6. Edmonton Oilers.................42-30-10, 2nd NW.................94pts

7. Chicago Blackhawks...........42-30-10, 2nd Central..........94pts

8. Minnesota Wild................. 42-31-9, 3rd NW.....................93pts

9. Phoenix Coyotes-- 39-33-10, 4th Pacific, 88pts

10. Colorado Avalanche-- 39-34-9, 4th NW, 87pts

11. Nashville Predators -- 39-34-9 3rd Central, 87pts

12. Vancouver Canucks --- 38-34-10, 5th NW, 86pts

13. Columbus Blue Jackets -- 36-34-12, 4th Central, 85pts

14. St. Louis Blues-- 35-35-12, 5th Central, 82pts

15. Los Angeles Kings -- 33-40-9, 5th Pacific 75pts

Thursday, September 11, 2008

7 Habits of Highly Effective NHL Forecasting: Part VI

The North West: My best estimation is that this division will come down to a very tight 3-horse race. That level of competitiveness which has existed among the Flames, Canucks, Oilers, Wild and Avalanche will eliminate their odds at a high seed in the West, but condition them nicely for playoff-style hockey.

Calgary Flames
-- Started last season at a geriatric pace and it cost them. Mikka Kiprusoffs' lukewarm performance and sub-par conditioning was the focus during that stretch, events which certainly need to be avoided for the '09 Flames to be successful. Built from the Net out, their defense is as strong as ever. Unless Dion Phaneuf catches the Hollywood-girlfriend jinx he will compete for the Norris Trophy with support coming from Reighr, Sarich, Aucoin and Warrener (although cap issues might see one of the latter two be dealt). Their only significant changes were up-front, signing Mike Cammelleri and Todd Bertuzzi to replace Tanguay and Owen Nolan, respectively. I consider both of these at least marginal upgrades, especially considering Cam's upside and the chip on Bertuzzi's shoulder. Otherwise, Iginla is the best captain in hockey and one of the leagues' most adept goal-scorers. All things considered I think they have what it takes to win the division and advance a few rounds in the tourney.

2008 Record: 42-30-10, 3rd Northwest
'09 Projection: 44-27-11, 1st NW

Minnesota Wild

-- Are a team defined by the sum of their parts. They are the system: boring, defensive, effective. They are also -- notably -- the defending Champs of this very tough division. The Wild lost former captain and 30-goal scorer Brian Rolston to free agency and failed miserably filling that void. For some* reason free agents want to play in Minnesota about as bad as they want gonorrhea (*the only thing people hate more than the coach is the system he forces upon his players). They'll need to cripple other teams offensive output to repeat as division champs (which is feasible given that Edmonton is the only club with a thoroughly intimidating attack). In the last year of his contract, pending UFA Marion Gaborik will be celebrating either way: his freedom at the end of the year, or as the highest-payed player in team history. Playing for a contract, I anticipate 40+ goals for Mighty Marion (10+ GWG, anyone?) and equally exciting efforts from the most under-rated tender in the game: Nik Backstrom. Minni needs everything to go right for them to win and I think they lack the punch for a title run.

2008 Record:44-28-10, 1st Northwest
'09 Projection: 42-31-9, 3rd NW

Colorado Avalanche

-- OMG Joe Sakic is back! With that announcement the Avalanche and their fans have experienced the most exciting moment of the entire campaign -- 2 months before it even started. Thanks largely to Jose Theodore over-achieving in a contract year (and then leaving town) the Av's won an impressive 44 games on their way to a playoff appearance last year. This year, however, is a different story. They will ice the goaltending tandem of Andrew Raycroft and Peter Budaj behind a line-up that fails boost my confidence. Can you blame me with aging stars Foote, Sakic, and Hejduk featured alongside others who've also jumped the shark: Tucker, Hannan, Smyth? On the upside lies their younger players who old-new Coach Tony Granato will rely on this year and beyond (Stastny, Wolski, Svatos). The combination of pillow-ish offensive punch, age, questionable goaltending, and a new coaching regime means this team is trending down and has a very real possibility of missing the playoffs.

2008 Record:44-31-7, 2nd Northwest
'09 Projection: 39-34-9, 4th NW

Edmonton Oilers

-- finished the season as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. Kevin Lowe is building a winner and we are going to get a taste of that this season. Up front they boast diversity in their size, skill and talent: the finesse of Gagner and Hemsky, strength from Penner and Eric Cole (acquired through trade) and the finish from Horcoff and Cogliano. This is a sexy under-dog pick for those looking at NHL futures, but beware of their defensive abilities. In order to acquire Cole they dealt promising D-man Joni Pitkanen leaving Souray, Visnovsky and Staios anchoring the unstable, but potentially brilliant combination of Dwayne Roloson and Mat Garon. Young, hungry and competitive I like this team to make the playoffs on their live ice and potentially battle their way into the second round. While the time is nigh for a run, the Cup is moving in another direction in the Western conference almost as dangerous as Kandahar.

2008 Record: 41-35-6, 4th Northwest
'09 Projection: 42-30-10, 2nd NW

Vancouver Canucks

-- ask fired GM Dave Nonis how to waste the best goalie in the NHL and he'll direct you to Vancouver's roster. Purged from this years squad is the last semblance of success in Van City as Naslund and Morrison bolted to greener pastures. Notwithstanding their marginal impact on the new clubs, Trevor Linden's retirement leaves a massive leadership void (to go with -- regrettably -- similarly abysmal talent). Bearish is the feeling on the Canucks this year and you shouldn't be surprised. Their only meaningful additions were Steve Bernier (via trade), and Kyle Wellwood (via giveaway). Nucks suck this year, sorry to my West Coast brethren but your only hope is an MVP-Vezina season from Luongo.

2008 Record:39-33-10, 5th Northwest
'09 Projection: 38-34-10, 5th NW

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Are CFL Teams Worse Than Jr. College?

As a proud Canadian I feel a small responsibility to uphold the integrity of the Canadian Football League. Since I don't care for our Northern variety of football this is a very challenging task -- one which regular readers know I consciously avoid with regularity.

Taking a shot at the CFL is like hazing the kids coming off the short bus. Only the cruel and sadistic would take pleasure in making an autistic kid grind out a penny race against the Klinefelter. That being said, some people just can't resist.

When asked what his time in the CFL was like, current Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo replied:
"It was like being paid to play junior-college football. Junior college was fun, but it was definitely not as serious as Division I, and the CFL is definitely not nearly as serious as the NFL."
Jr. College? Ouch. Like the guys in the CFL needed another comparison to an inferior league? They all know they can't hack it in the NFL, but you don't have to pile it on like this Brendon. His experience was so off-putting and morose that he was surprised to be earning a pay cheque:
"You get paid to do it, and you have fun and travel around Canada and learn about other people and other customs."
There's a plus -- we are great people and this is a beautiful country. Unfortunately, our version of football is obscure and substandard. I challenge anyone with an argument in support of the CFL to be heard in the comments, as I'll surely find your efforts more amusing than the game itself. Brendon agrees.

Thanks for reading. Subscribe and make coming back a routine, you'll thank me later. Cheers, Derek.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Lee Not A Lock for AL Cy Young

Cliff Lee is pitching his ass off.

For emphasis, I allow that statement to get the room is deserves. Any pedestrian account would certainly puts Lee and his phenomenal wire-to-wire performance above that of any pitcher in the Bigs. According to ESPN, he currently ranks:

• Ranks 1st in AL in W (21)• Ranks 2nd in AL in IP (201.2)
• Ranks 8th in AL in SO (154)• Ranks 1st in AL in ERA (2.28)
• Ranks 2nd in AL in WHIP (1.05)• Ranks 1st in AL in WPct (.913)
• Ranks 2nd in AL in CG (4)

A wholly impressive body of work that will without doubt award Lee Cy Young honours, right? Lets take the time to appropriately consider Roy Halladay's parallels:

• 2nd in AL in W (18)• 1st in AL in IP (218.0)
• 3rd in AL in SO (185)• 2nd in AL in ERA (2.64)
• 1st in AL in WHIP (1.04)• 10th in AL in WPct (.667)
• 1st in AL in CG (8)

In and of themselves these data doesn't fully represent how close the race is. The superficial illustration above ignores more sophisticated models of performance: sabermetics. For that, please see this brilliant data table prepared by zeppelinkm which was shared over at Batter's Box. Courtesy of their efforts (summarized in the graphic below) we know that Cliff Lee has consistently faced inferior competition -- both opposing starters and opposing hitters.

This graphic shows the startling difference in the conditions under which Halladay and Lee have pitched. Roy Halladay has consistently faced more winning clubs who hit better, get on base more often and produce more runs on average, all while watching his club battle against stronger opposing pitchers and consequently produce less runs. Every metric posted above serves in favor of Halladay for the Cy Young.

If you're still unconvinced, consider the following data provided in the comment section to the aforementioned Batters Box article.

Against .750+ OPS Teams (Top-15)
Pitcher -- Games/IP/W-L/ERA

Roy------- 23 /163.1 /13-9 /2.98
Lee--------12 / 79.1 / 9-1 / 3.06

In the face of formidable opposition Lee has been outstanding. However, he's thrown half the innings against the baseball-crushing, pitching-stat inflating clubs that have hurt Halladays' numbers. To further this comparison, Magpie from Batters Box says:

"There are only five teams in the majors on pace to win 90+ games: Boston, Tampa, the Angels, and the two Chicago teams. Halladay has made 11 of his 29 starts against those five teams, and they account for 5 of his 9 losses (he has 6 wins against them). On the other hand, while Lee has made just 5 starts against those teams, he's been absolutely brilliant against them - he's 4-0, 1.15 in those five starts."
Vs. -.750 ops teams (Bottom-15)
Pitcher -- Games/IP/W-L/ERA

Roy ------- 7 /54.2 / 5-0 /1.65
Lee------- 15 / 113.1 / 11-1 / 1.91

This is self-explanatory: They both dominate poor-hitting teams. Note the difference in IP, a ratio that nearly mirrors that above.

The debate is raging and I am happy to propagate it here with some input of my own (with the acknowledged help of the data from others). Is there any hope for Halladay in the face of Lee's shiny 21-2 record? Probably not since the voters are less likely to consider all the quantifiable variables outlined herein. Maybe, just maybe they'll see this wonderful piece and change their minds! Digg it, Bark it, Email it and Subscribe -- for Roy's sake, not mine!

Thanks for reading and come back soon. Cheers, Derek.

Update: Here is another convincing piece from BP which quantified their strength-of-opposition in the EqA fashion.

Why the Pats, Colts, Chargers Got Burned for Undervaluing the Preseason

The pre-season of the NFL won a large victory yesterday. The month-long dog-and-pony show that fans, players and coaches alike screamed to have abolished stepped up and punched them right in the throat. Clearly there is only so much it was willing to take and it should be commended for teaching the league a lesson: use me wisely, or else...

Week 1 of the NFL showed us a few interesting things about older, more experienced teams which championed the insignificance of the pre-season. Several notable clubs who openly mocked the significance of the preseason correspondingly got stood up when they arrived to the dance. Peyton and the Colts were terrible at home. The Patriots scraped by, while the Chargers manufactured defeat from certain victory. The Browns are due slightly different criticism, but are included for reasons outlined below.

Manning's bum-knee kept him out of the pre-season and the Colts offense what victimized resultantly. They looked although the plays were brand new to them and had a porous line that left the pre-seasonless Peyton drifting the in back field. Tony Dungy runs the pre-season like a corporate team-building retreat instead of a boot camp and they were on the wrong end of a 13-29 thumping from a Bears team who was unquestionably better prepared to win.

The team that still hasn't lost a regular season game since 2006, the New England Patriots also unimpressively squeaked by. Notwithstanding the devastation that followed the season-ending injury to Tom Brady, I can't be the only one who felt they should still have put the hammer down a little more against a K.C. squad who also lost their starting quarterback? The Pats had four 3-and-outs and managed to look ordinary, admittedly due to a combination of pre-season malaise and Brady-related shock.

How about the Chargers and Browns? Not really fair to burn the Chargers for losing to a buzzer-beating TD, but they they deserved to lose after surrendering 388-yards (including 68y with 2:27 remaining) and converting but 4-of-12 third downs. They were sound on the offensive side of the ball with Rivers and LT managing performances akin to the AFC championship standards, which I acknowledge begrudgingly.

The over-hyped Browns were in tough against the Dallas Cowboys, but did nothing to make this game competitive. Derek Anderson was brutal, fumbling twice while completing less than half of his throws (QB rating: 74). Early drops and subsequent disappearance of Braylon Edwards set the stage for their unimpressive 10pt performance. With a few more repetitions under their belt Edwards might have run away with that sure-TD he dropped and changed the course of the game.

The reason for their respective struggles is naturally open for debate. If you're thinking like me, then you feel these teams were overwhelmed mentally and insufficiently prepared physically. We hear endlessly about their being no substitution for the speed and intensity of a regular season game, a soundbite that seems to stress the importance of that experience in games that don't matter. So when Manning, LT and Rivers, Brady, Edwards and half of their respective teammates watch -- rather than play -- the tune-up games designed to get them into the proper rhythm, is it any surprise they bonk out of the gate?

Consider the contrast between younger teams who worked their asses off and turned themselves into winners on week one. Rather than a collection of individuals grinding in an unfamiliar groove and at varying speeds, clubs like Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago and Baltimore hit the ground running -- most importantly, as a group travelling at the same speed in the same lane. Synchronously and as a unit these 4 teams blasted out of the gate and surprised the entire league.

Atlanta was led by Matt Ryan and Mike Turner -- both new to the organization and with something to prove. These kinds of expectations are exactly that which ensures meticulous planning and familiarization with the on-field tenancies of one another. Likewise, after re-claiming the starting role for this season, Trent Edwards and the Bills looked polished. Defense and special teams were outstanding (two special teams touchdowns vs. Seattle) and the results speak for themselves. Baltimore, another team with low-expectations and a young quarterback proved in much the same way the Bills did that using the pre-season as a spring board for excellence rather than a walk-thru or warm-up pays off immeasurably.

In a week featuring the above contrasts to approach-and-outcome the value of the pre-season has never been more controversial. The err of veteran teams who piously demanded the abolishment of the pre-season is in their complacency. They sacrifice fluency and rhythm for the good of their health, which in a game as violent and brutal as the NFL, is a trade-off that needs to be delicately balanced. Let these examples serve as a reminder that in the game of inches, nothing can be overlooked regardless of it's perceived insignificance.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

7 Habits of Highly Effective NHL Forecasting: Part V

Western Pacific Division: Another powerhouse that with certainty will rival their Eastern Atlantic foes in terms of overall calibre of play. The Ducks, Stars, Kings, Coyotes and Sharks will have some epic battles which won't stop in the regular season. Read on below to find out who is best positioned to stand atop the rest.

Anaheim Mighty Ducks

-- Oh, how the Mighty are fallin'... OK, not the most original way to kick off the 5th installment of this series, but when the cliche fits use it. Age and experience are normally an asset in professional sports and few teams have rode this to success like the Ducks in the past few seasons. We have now reached, in my humble, er... usually correct opinion, the point of diminishing returns for these Ducks. The cap is Brian Burkes' enemy (presently a few million over) which has left some vets on the outside looking in (Selanne and Schneider). Mediocre UFA signing Brendan Morrison will join returning forwards (Perry, Getzlaf, Kunitz) and disappointing '05 2nd overall Bobby Ryan with the hopes of this years squad resting on their shoulders. Looking at their last 3 seasons (lost Western Final, Won Stanley Cup, lost Western QF's) leads me to believe they are trending downward. Pronger and company on the back end will ensure strong numbers for Giguère and the squad on the whole, but I don't expect them to factor into the Western Final as many odds makers insist.

2008 Record: 47-27-8, 2nd Pacific
'09 Prediction: 44-30-8, 3rd Pacific

Dallas Stars

-- three words describe the teams who I think will win their respective conferences: depth at center. The Flyers, found here, are second up the middle to only the Stars who will ice Ribeiro, Richards, Modano and Lunqvist/Ott. Accompanying them upfront are three reliable plus-performers (Morrow, Avery, Lehtinen) creating an offensive cast considered the cats ass by most. Defensively, health is paramount with Zubov's ability to play in 70+ games and a full post-season likely determining how far they can make it. Oh, that dude between the pipes (Marty Turco) will continue to do his thing: stop 92% of the pucks thrown at him, dominate in the clutch and lead them to the Western Conference title.

2008 Record: 45-30-7, 3rd Pacific
'09 Prediction: 48-26-8, 1st Pacific

Phoenix Coyotes
-- Got better, but the magnitude of their improvements is the problem. Adding Olli Jokinen came at a cost to their defense (as Phoenix fans will happily tell you), but they finally have a center to play big time minutes against the pseudo-human, nuclear-powered refrigerators (Thornton, Morrow, Kopitar, Getzlaf) opposing them in their division. Their storyline will be dominated by contrast: will the performance of their young stars (Turris, Mueller, Carcillo, 1st rounder Mikkal Boedker) match that of their vets (Doan and Jovanovski). If they can align themselves and play at a high level, Ilya Bryzgalov will ensure they improve on their showing last season. Playoffs are doubtful, but they will be under-estimated around every turn and eager to prove people wrong.

2008 Record: 38-37-7, 4th Pacific
'09 Prediction: 39-33-10, 4th Pacific

Los Angeles Kings

-- I don't care enough to crunch the numbers, but they are probably the youngest team in the league. Notwithstanding the fact that half of the team won't be able to drink in the States with the rest of the US Americans

, they have some serious fire-power in their returning forwards (Kopitar, O'Sullivan, Brown and Frolov) who were responsible for 119 goals last season. Defensively they anticipate more growth from Jack Johnson, Tom Hickey and 1st rounder Drew Doughty. The crease will be occupied by whomever emerges from the revolving door of prospects (Jon Bernier, Ersberg, and LaBarbara). They miss the playoffs but add some well-needed seasoning to their young core.

2008 Record: 32-43-7, 5th Pacific
'09 Prediction: 33-40-9, 5th Pacific

San Jose Sharks

-- leave it to the Eastern media to ignore a team from Southern California that almost won 50 games last year and amassed 43 or more wins in the last 4 seasons. Surprised they've been that good for so long? (Ask Ron Wilson how he feels about getting canned after winning 177 contests in 4 years). Will the coaching change bring some more post-season success? Probably not, so what is holding them back? Their blue line shouldn't be an issue after adding Dan Boyle to replace the departed UFA Brian Campbell, and Rob Blake who will ease the pain of losing Rivet to Buffalo. It's not the goaltending, as Nabokov is one of the best and has been since the turn of the century. It shouldn't be the offense as they have 5 returning forwards with 19+ goals last season (plus the 10GWG-scoring Jeremy Roenick). The source of their troubles is allusive, clearly. Its as mysterious as a ghost shit, so don't ask me to find it. They can win it all, but I can't possibly pick them to do it after burning me time and again.

2008 Record: 49-23-10, 1st Pacific
'09 Prediction: 46-27-9, 2nd Pacific

Saturday, August 30, 2008

7 Habits of Highly Effective NHL Forecasting: Part IV

To open the Western Conference, I honour the champions from last season: The CENTRAL DIVISION. ---------------------------------

Detroit Red Wings:

What is there to say? They have been lauded endlessly since destroying the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup final, lost no one of significance and gained Marion Hossa: they took a great thing and made it better (like undressing the Mona Lisa, or loading beer and strippers onto Noahs Ark). The only reasonable assumption is that they will be on par with their achievements last year -- a championship standard that is difficult to live up to. With a target squarely on their already-battled-worn backs I would not be surprised to see the injury bug sweep through the team. The subjective nature of that aside, Zetterberg, Datsuk, Hossa, Holmstrom, Frazen, Lidstrom, Rafalski and insert All Star here will make others look stupid on-the-regular throughout the season and well into the playoffs. Repeat? Ask me when they get to the dance.

2008 Record: 54-21-7, 1st Central
'09 Projection: 49-25-8, 1st Central

Chicago Blackhawks:

-- are the sweet heart team in the Western Conference this year. Look for them to sweep hockey fans off of their feet (straight onto the band wagon) much the same way Washington did last season, minus the AO-like dominance from their young snipers. Kane, Toews and Sharp carried the offense last year on a Blackhawks team that missed the playoffs by a slim margin (which may be accounted for by exuberant rookies playing too hungover on the road, something veteran piss-tank Robert Lang surely advised them on in the off-season). They added free-agent Brian Campbell to an already stacked offensively-adept blue line (Keith, Seabrook). Apparently trending upwards and due for a playoff appearance there remains some problems capable of grounding their expectations: Will Pat Sharp back up his shockingly productive season of '08 similarly in '09? How will they get rid of Knabiboulin and his 6.75mil contract so that newly-signed free-agent Christobal Huet can call the team his own? Whether or not they materialize into a threat this season is debatable, but their future is very positive as indicated by the willingness of Scotty Bowman to leave Detriot for Chi Town. This is a playoff team, but they need to iron out a few things before they can win it all.

2008 Record: 40-34-8, 2nd Central
'09 Projection: 42-30-10, 2nd Central

Nashville Predators
-- should prepare themselves to be usurped by Chicago as the 2nd-best team in the Detriot-dominated division. While they're at it, might as well err on the side of caution and be ready for numerous Western conference teams to fly past them having made zero notable moves in the off-season. Naturally I know headlines are not correlated to performance, but an offense with the punch of a Jaleel White circa 1995 is. With 2/3's of their second line doubtful (Alex Radulov set to play in Russia, Steve Sullivan's back doesn't work anymore) the Pred's need Arnott, Dumont, Erat and Legwand to produce over what most reasonable prognosticators will expect. Their saving grace will be their strong defense (Suter, Hamhuis, Weber) which will regrettably be without offensively-gifted Martin Zidlicky (gone to Minnesota). In support of their admirable cast of blue-liners is emerging goaltending star Dan Ellis (fantasy alert?). He was stellar during both the regular season (23-10-3, 6SO, 2.34GAA, .924%) and the playoffs (.938% over 6 games). Should he continue to demonstrate this type of consistency and reliability Nashville will be sniffing around the bottom of the playoff rankings in lieu of spiralling down the shit can.

2008 Record: 41-32-9, 2nd Central
'09 Projection: 39-34-9 3rd Central

Columbus Blue Jackets
-- are not only competing for their first-ever playoff appearance in '09, but are also in contention for the most numerous roster changes. They finally said goodbye to frustrating forward Nik Zherdev (who as an aside is still held in high regard by Doug MacLean. It's hard for your draft picks to live up to Gretzky when they play like Valari Bure, Dougie. Welcome to radio). Also wearing other threads are Hainsey, Brule and Dan Fritsche all of whom will contribute on their new clubs, albeit to varying degrees with Hainsey purportedly the most promising for the otherwise burning-tires-and-skunks-awful Atlanta Thrashers. Their top line is respectable (Nash - Umberger - Huselius), but everything between them and goaltender Pascal Leclaire is unimpressive. With Raffi Torres on the second line, Mike Commodore playing top 2 minutes its looks like the Battle of Fallen Timbers all over again.

2008 Record: 34-36-12, 4th Central
'09 Projection: 36-34-12, 4th Central

St. Louis Blues
-- John Davidson is viewed as a miracle worker by some given the resurgence of the team during his tenure (est. June 2006). However, their on-ice successes have much more to do with the brilliance of Brad Boyes and his 43-gino career-year. His partner-in-crime is sneaky point-producer Andy MacDonald who shares his habit of making plays and setting up tap-ins with their aging linemate (Paul 'if only prime wasn't so far away' Kariya). This will be another rung up the rebuilding latter for the hockey team in Mizzou, so we might get to see a lot of promising young talent, but only for 82 games or less.

2008 Record: 33-36-13, 5th Central
'09 Projection: 35-35-12, 5th Central

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An Open Letter to MLB Video Replay: Welcome!

Dear MLB Video Replay:

Welcome to 2008. I'm sure catching up with the times was extraordinarily exhausting but you need to know how worthwhile your efforts are to baseball. You have the support of every human being having witnessed a Major League Baseball game since the Negro Leagues, in addition to anyone excluded above with the capacity to wipe their own ass.

Your presence is so valuable that we are willing to tolerate your shortcomings. You're late, but we forgave you just as soon as you showed up. You're a job-threatening robot, but your consistency and reliability are far too valuable to go without any longer.

What I like most is your drive to succeed. You persevered in the face of such strong resistance from the purists (see fans sired before World War I, pseudo-geriatrics and the Crypt Keeper). You have the heartwarming capacity to humiliate 4 -- and sometimes as many as 6 -- fat egomaniacal stooges, a consortium whom are ironically your most dubious foes.

Thank you for coming and enlightening those previously blinded. Thank you for fighting the good fight and standing up for what you believe in.


Derek from Cloud9.

PS -- I told'da so, I friggin' tolda so. In October of 2007, I told the world why MLB should adpot instant replay.
PSS - Subscribe here for the win.

Monday, August 25, 2008

NHL Eastern Conference Wrap Up

You can check out Part I- Atlantic, Part II- Northeast, and Part III- Southeast at their respective locations, all of which are offering full explanations.

According to the information contained therein, here is a tally representing how the NHL playoff picture will take shape. Any beefs?

1. Philadelphia Flyers
...........47-25-10, 1th Atlantic.................104pts
2. Washington Capitals ........45-27-10, 1st Southeast.............100pts
3. Montreal Canadians .......44-27-11, 1st Northeast..............99pts
4. Pittsburgh Penguins ........42-28-12, 2rd Atlantic................96pts
5. Ottawa Senators ...................42-29-11, 2nd Northeast............95pts
6. Boston Bruins ........................40-27-13, 3rd Northeast............93pts
7. Carolina Hurricanes .......42-31-9, 2nd Southeast..............93pts
8. New York Rangers ............40-30-12, 3nd Atlantic...............92pts

9. New Jersey Devils
41-33-8, 4th Atlantic.90pts
10. Tampa Bay Lightning 37-33-12, 3rd Southeast, 86pts
11. Buffalo Sabres
37-36-9, 4th Northeast 83pts
12. Florida Panthers 34-37-11, 4th Southeast, 79pts
13. Toronto Maple Leafs 32-37-13, 5th Northeast 77pts
14. Atlanta Thrashers 33-39-10, 5th Southeast, 73pts
15. New York Islanders 32-41-9, 5th Atlantic, 71pts

Stay tuned for the Western Conference break downs in the coming days. Cheers, Derek.

Friday, August 22, 2008

7 Habits of Highly Effective NHL Forecasting: Part III

You can check out Part I, and Part II at their respective locations.

The Dirty South East:

This division is full of teams that I would like to see out of the NHL entirely, as I've documented previously. Their shitty revenue kills their operating budget erasing any chance of being competitive on a consistent basis (see Cups to the can for Tampa (2004) and Carolina (2006)). Hope is limited to those teams fortunate enough to draft Alex Ovechkin:

Washington Capitals
-- We'd all be more excited if Christobal Huet hadn't bolted for Chicago. This move opened the door for Jose Theodore, whose decent career numbers mask his failure to live up to the standards he sat 4-6 years ago (which assuredly erodes his confidence and fosters his inconsistency). I'm not holding my breath for a return to form, but the AO-led '08 Caps showed their offensive abilities are strong enough to compensate for average netminding. Defenseman Karl Alzner will get a sniff of the big dance potentially alongside the surprisingly-productive Tom Poti. They are joined on the blue line by a formidable contingent of young potential All Stars (Green, Morrisonn). Playing with Ovechkin will help stud-'08-rookie Nik Backstrom avoid a sophomore slump in the same way another years' experience should facilitate improvement in their secondary scoring (courtesy of Semin, Kozlov and Fleishmann). They were narrowly clipped by the Flyers ending their Cinderella playoff run in '08 adding fuel to the competitive fire that should keep them climbing the rankings in the East.

2008 Record: 43-31-8, 1st Southeast
'09 Projection: 45-27-10, 1st Southeast

Tampa Bay Lightning
-- had a massive off-season. Their completely over-hauled roster was the mandate of new ownership (Oren Koules and Len Barrie). Accordingly, the Bolts' new coach (ex-WWL analyst 10-years removed from his last coaching stint, Barry 'The Mullet' Melrose) will put together the jigsaw of a line-up stocked with players also well removed from their old glory. Tampas' opening day lines will display some permutation of the following: forwards (Ryan Malone, Adam Hall, Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, Radim Vrbata and the reacquired Vinny Prospal -- Jesus himself is reportedly at training camp with a shot a 4th line role), and defensive addition (Matt Carle) who'll have the impossible task of replicating the puck-moving ability of departed PP QB Dan Boyle (to San Jose). True to their reinvented form, the goaltenders (deadline acquisition Mike Smith, and free agent Olly Kolzig) are unaware of their place on the team. I expect 50 starts for the much younger Smith, and the Lightning hope he'll outplay Kolzig keeping him humble in the back-up role. Lofty contributions are also expected from seenstamkos.com star Steven, riding his 1st Overall selection to a shot at centering the second line behind venerable offensive contributors Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecav, who will lead this motley cast in concert with shoot-out machine Jussi Jokinen. If they find the chemistry and stay healthy I'd anticipate a last-minute scrap for a playoff position. Otherwise, lets chalk their frantic roster shuffling and continued stagnation up to growing pains.

2008 Record: 31-42-9, 5th Southeast
'09 Projection: 37-33-12, 3rd Southeast

Carolina Hurricanes
-- With a dearth of offensive D-men GM Jim Rutherford wisely exchanged fan-favourite Eric Cole for Joni Pitkanen; a deal that met the ire of fans whose love for the name and his story obstructed their managerial-assessment capabilities. Carolina is stocked with talented forwards (Staal, Whitney, Brind'Amour, Walker, LaRose) who put up tallies on a per-game basis at elite levels on balance. With the mobile Pitkanen anchoring their PP, I like Carlina to sneak into the tournament as a 6-8 seed in the East. Cam Ward is older, more mature and has steadily posted better numbers. Contingent on Wards progression, the 'Canes success will hinge on their health (which has shattered Carolinas' potential in recent years) and the consistency of Eric Staal (whose ability to take over games and provide a compliment to the fine leadership of the ageless Rod-the-Bod Brind'Amour will be vital).

2008 Record: 43-33-6, 2nd Southeast
'09 Projection: 42-31-9, 2nd Southeast

Florida Panthers
-- This franchise is a joke. They gave away Robbie Luongo a few seasons ago, swapped their best skater (Olli Jokinen) for two non-impact players (Nick Boyton and Keith Ballard), and have their best defensemen desperately seeking employment elsewhere (see Bouwmeesters' arbitration issue and subsequent 1-year deal). Corey Stillman is in, but too old to be a saviour and goaltender Tomas Vokoun can only make so many saves. They miss the playoffs -- again -- and hopefully re-locate to Southern Ontario.

2008 Record: 38-35-9, 3rd Southeast
'09 Projection: 34-37-11, 4th Southeast

Atlanta Thrashers
-- I'd like to avoid an entry for them altogether, but since the development of these OCD-like symptoms that make incompletion more annoying than a hockey team in Atlanta, I'll highlight the one reason you might care about the Thrashers: Ilya Kovalchuk. Teams know that ATL couldn't compete in the AHL, let alone the 'N', so they slack off and beat them 6-3, 5-4, 7-4, etc. But who's racking up all those snipes in a losing cause? Mr. Kovalchuk. If the impending captaincy motivates him sufficiently he could make another legit run at the Rocket Richard. There: some hope for Thrashers fans...

2008 Record: 34-40-8, 4th Southeast
'09 Projection: 33-39-10, 5th Southeast

Thanks for reading. Also, subscribing is a great idea as the NFL/NHL seasons are fast approaching. Cheers, Derek.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

7 Habits of Highly Effective NHL Forecasting: Part II

Part II of VI in the on-going NHL 2008-2009 season predictions. For Part I, click here. If this image at-all resembles Kovalevs' season this year, the Habs are in trouble. --------------------------------------------------

Northeast Division
There exists some formidable competition in this division, which could match the 3 playoff teams it generated last year. Find out whats good with the Leafs, Habs, Bruins, Sabres and Sens below.

Boston Bruins

-- A long shot for the Cup, this years Bruins squad is nonetheless trending upwards after putting a legitimate scare into the heavily-favoured Habs this past post-season. Their offensive forwards are young and skilled (Savard, Lucic, Kessel) and have some new tools to work (free agent signing, Michael Ryder, who will get a chance to replace Glen Murray on the top line). Returning from injury after getting shameless obliterated from behind is a fully-recovered Patrice Bergeron who's presence will aid the drowsy offense under Claude Guillien. Defensively Zdeno Chara will continue to be the most under-rated defensman in the league (+102 in his last 6 seasons and managed a career high 51pts last year) alongside newly re-signed Denis Wideman (who shockingly averaged 25:09mins per game last year). Another notable something-for-nothing is goaltender Manny Fernandez. I know we all the the quirky aggressiveness and agility of Tim Thomas, but does anyone think he can win a Stanley Cup? I don't and Manny Fernandez is Bostons solution; he thrived in the similarly uber-defensive system in Minni, but has been unremarkable during his tenure in Boston. All things considered the success of the '09 Bruins is reduced to one question: Can the team-defense concept forcibly nullify the inconsistency of a youthful offense and uncertain goal keeping? Probably not.

2008 Record: 41-29-12, 3rd Northeast
09 Projection: 40-27-13, 3rd Northeast

Montreal Canadians
-- Going into last season the Habs were treated with absolutely no respect. They were too young, had too many vets along for the ride and a lack of grit. They proved everyone wrong and excelled to the top seed in the East, thanks largely to major contributions from the Kostitsyn Brother and career-years from two defenseman, Mark Streit (who chased the free-agent money offered from the dreadful NY Islanders) and Andrei Markov, who Montreal brass hopes will uphold the standard set. They are stacked in goal with Price, Halak and Denis, the former two being the likely 1-2 respectively, but not without significant controversy in broadsheets of La Belle Province. Losing Streit will dent the previously impenetrable power play that supplied more offense for their club than any other last year, whereas the another year of maturity should improve their even-strength play. The Stanley Cups odds are very generous for a team that over-achieved last year, but I feel their chances to take the division are justifiably high.

2008 Record: 47-25-10, 1st Northeast
09 Projection: 44-27-11, 1st Northeast

Ottawa Senators
-- Two lackluster off-seasons have followed their run to the 2007 Cup Final meaning Ottawa enters the 08-09 campaign with the same unimpressive group that turned the best start in the NHL into Chernobyl. The exit of aging liabilities up front (Corey Stillman and Martin Lapointe) and at the rear (Redden and Commadore; contract pending for RFA Mezaros) has done little to boost my expectations of this team. These departures were countered by signing down-trending warrior Jason Smith, and gritty pest Jarko Ruutu. These two should improve the club defensively, much the same way buying out Ray Emery will boost their internal prospectus. However, if you think the aforementioned Ray Emery was the sole proprietor of their dressing-room dysfunction you probably rode the short bus to grade school. Complacency and stagnation has messed with the confidence levels of a team who has demonstrated its fragile make up regularly. With a new coach behind the bench (Craig Hartsburg) I anticipate tension and infighting to continue, problems that can be buoyed by their talent level which is admittedly upper-class. The likelihood of a playoff birth is high, but I feel the stars need to align for them to get out of the East. Oh, and is anyone convinced about Martin Gerber now that Emery is gone?

2008 Record: 43-31-8, 2nd Northeast
09 Projection: 42-27-11, 2nd Northeast

Toronto Maple Leafs
-- Leafs Nation is prepared for a well-overdue rebuilding program, but didn't anticipate doing so under the guidance of GM Cliff Fletcher. Having botched their last 40 seasons on-ice, the Leafs have unsurprisingly fumbled the GM search and delayed the maturation of the new vision. They will finish last in this division, receive less HNIC coverage and still make more money than the entire South East division combined: most Torontonians also rode the short bus, by the way. New coach Ron Wilson, and his increasing frustration with the media bombardment will provide the majority of the entertainment from this years abysmal squad (unless you are inexplicable fond of Joe Bowen and Harry Neale).

2008 Record: 36-35-11, 5th Northeast
09 Projection: 32-37-13, 5th Northeast

Buffalo Sabres
-- All indications suggest a Groundhog Day-like 08-09 for the blue-collar Sabres. Narrowly missing the playoffs last season left a bad taste in the mouth of Buffalo fans who have watched three All Stars leave town in a period on one-half season (Briere, Drury and subsequently Brian Campbell). That the challenging Buffalo market has impedes the Sabres annually surprises no one, however locking up their franchise goaltender (Ryan Miller) and signing a steady veteran D (Craig Rivet) may breed some optimism among their youthful core (Pominville, Roy, Hecht, Gaustad, Paille). This brief gaiety notwithstanding, I expect the Sabres to struggle mightily until they get an explosive offensive contributor (/huge annoying cough: Tomas freaking Vanek). Having dealt their return for Campbell (Bernier; to Vancouver) the message is clear: we need picks because this team isn't ready to win. They might surprise beyond in 2010 and beyond, but until then...

2008 Record: 39-31-12, 4th Northeast
09 Projection: 37-36-9, 4th Northeast

Thanks for reading. Be sure to check out the future installments in a few days. Cheers, Derek.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective NHL Forecasting

Thanks for checking out the site. You can also find me on the radio tonight (Tuesdays, 6-9pm) 101.5Fm or streaming online here. Cheers, Derek.
Predicting the future is a challenging business. It is governed by many of the same factors that determine the outcome of our own life: hard work and dedication (collecting data and information on every team), confidence and trust (avoiding over-thinking and believing your gut), ability and aptitude (how well do you actually know the game?) and pure luck (see: rectally-lodged horseshoes, leprechauns, David Spade and Heather Locklear). With that in mind, I submit to the public record my projections for the 2008-2009 NHL season, starting with (arguably) the best division in hockey: East Atlantic.

New York Rangers
-- Gone from the roster are Straka, Avery and Jagr (and with passing days, it looks like Shanny as well). Signed to fill the holes are the vapid and diminishing talents of free agents Wade Redden and Marcus Naslund. That pretty much puts their off-season in the loss column, but Glen Sather would tell you otherwise. He moved two former early round picks (Backman and Tyutin) to acquire enigmatic Nikolai Zherdev, and Dan Fritsche. The latter will learn from and play much like stalwart Chris Drury, whereas Zherdev will try and fill the flashy neon shoes of Jagr. Returning contributors will keep the Rangers competitive in the East: Lunqvist and Gomez are both All Star and near the peak of their career, while Dubinsky and Marc Staal continue to mature into solid top-line players.

2008 Record: 42-27-13, 3rd Atlantic
Projected '09: 40-30-12, 3nd Atlantic

Pittsburgh Penguins

-- At short odds to win it all, most will put them in the Cup Final again -- not me. Pittsburgh brilliantly executed their plan to build a team capable of winning the Cup last year, but Detroit proved they did a better job. The Pens revealed their urgency by surprisingly acquiring Marion Hossa, who ironically left a cloud of smoke when he bolted to the aforementioned Red Wings. Unfortunately their taste of success was succeeded by changes on mass. Lost are Hossa, Malone, Roberts, Ruutu and Laraque (and now Ryan Whitney to injury for 5month) meaning their 2009 opening day roster could have 7-10 new names on it. If goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury can back up his excellent performance last year, Crosby and Malkin will make sure enough pucks get buried on the other side to keep them in the playoff hunt, quite possibly with home-ice advantage based on their savage level of raw talent.

2008 Record: 47-27-8, 1st Atlantic
Projected '09: 42-29-11, 2rd Atlantic

New Jersey Devils
-- They can be summed up perfectly by a quote from GM Lou Lamoriello:
" People forget—we had 99 points and were in first place 60, 70 percent of the year. We've added two players in Bobby Holik and Brian Rolston, and certainly we're looking for a defenseman or two to come in and play—or push somebody—and we'll see what happens from there."

Who would have thought the brilliant architect of the Devils near-dynasty would have such a good sound bite in him? Thanks Lou, if only you were smart enough to create a winner that was also exciting to watch, we'd care more about your club and less about you (hmm, maybe its deliberate...). Any how, I've been waiting for Marty Brodeur to slide, and he's proven me wrong two years running. Call me stubborn, but age catches everyone and Brodeur is human, right? They'll ride him all year and I wouldn't be surprised if an injury was to blame for their below average performance. That notwithstanding Parise, Elias, Rolston, and the same crew of role players that seemingly over-achieve annually means this division will ice yet another playoff contender.

2008 Record: 46-29-7, 2nd Atlantic
Projected '09: 41-33-8, 4th Atlantic

New York Islanders
-- Brutal. This is a definite re-build year for the Islanders and I have little interest detailing their inevitable ass-raping courtesy of their divisional rivals. On the flip side, they could be celebrating the first-overall pick at the draft lottery in the summer!

2008 Record: 35-38-9, 5th Atlantic
Projected '09: 32-41-9, 5th Atlantic

Philadelphia Flyers
-- Lost Umberger, but gained Simon Gagne back from a year of concussion rehab and an off-season of strength and conditioning. Having scored 40+ twice, the Flyers fans are desperate to keep him healthy and productive on a strong team that has all the tools to make some noise in the Eastern conference. They are extremely deep up the middle (Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere) and compliment it well with defenders (Timonen, Coburn, Jones) that can move the puck and contribute at both ends of the rink. Marty Biron was in his prime last season (30-20-9, .918SV%, 2.59GGA, 5SO) which means this young team has a lethal make-up: confidence, talent, motivation. I think they surprise a lot of people and win this division, and maybe get to the Finals if they're healthy.

2008 Record: 42-29-11, 4th Atlantic
Projected '09: 47-25-10, 1th Atlantic

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