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Cloud9 Sports: Opinionated musing on the sporting world.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cloud9 Sports Podcast: Tiger, Eli Manning and the Tipster.

Enjoy the newest auditory submission on Cloud9 Sports. This podcast continues the State of Sports Address with a look at why Tigers' dominance is bad for the PGA, a profile of Super Bowl QB Eli Manning and how his emergence should be judged, and lastly a humourous beef on Sports gambling and the Fan 590.

Thanks for listening! - Derek.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cloud9 Sports: State of Sports Address Part I (MLB & NHL)

MLB: Roger Clemens' lawyer is a tool. An 18,000 word document laden with statistical analysis is no way to prove your case in the sports world. Sports are bound to emotion. The thrill and excitement, and often the sadness and disappointment we feel after either watching or participating in competition has touched us all. To deny this as the most fundamental component to sports is erroneous. Likewise, it should be centric to the arguments proposed in Roger Clemens defense – a fact that has been lost on his council, Rusty Hardin.

Stats have no emotional context. They are bland and lifeless – much like most statisticians I've ever met (nothing personal, but seriously: are they ever the life of your party?). The statistical delineations contained in the most recently published document from Clemens and Co. fly aggressively in the face of the emotional and irrational sports fan, and bounce off their oft receding hairline right over their head. We can handle a few key stats, but 44-pages worth – not happening Roger, which is why you need to gas a resignation letter onto the desk of your lawyer, Mr. Hardin.

Or perhaps use the split-finger pitch which reportedly saved your career in its latter stages? Since we've addressed the cited rationality for Clemens longevity, we should ask whether a split-finger pitches also add several pounds of muscle and decrease recovery time from injuries? Hmm, I guess the physical transformation of a 40yo man must have been an aberration due to training, eh Roggie? By this line of thought, your next excuse will be a 20-page thank-you letter to Jack Lalanne for his exceptional tutelage.

Look forward to the days surrounding Clemens Congressional Hearing on February 5th to shed some more doubt on the increasingly convoluted defense of his reputation. Other notables to testify in these hearings include former teammates, Chuck Knoblauch and Andy Pettite and former personal trainer Brian McNamee. With the content of their testimony very much unresolved, but not lacking speculation, we can only place our misguided hope in the proceedings to provide some tangible answers; something as of yet unaccomplished via Congressional involvement. At the very least we'll have training camp upon us shortly to mix up the steroid-focused MLB news feed.

NHL: To absolutely no ones surprise Teemu Selanne is back with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Following the path of former captain Scott Neidermayer whose return has marked a notable turn-around for the Ducks, Selanne brings his back-to-back 40+ goal, 90+ point campaigns into an already formidable offensive attack.

Things are different this go 'round for Teemu since his linemate and setup-man Andy MacDonald has departed to St. Louis. Further, he joins a Ducks squad with a first line (Perry-Getzlaf-Bertuzzi) intact and capable of rivaling the most effective in the NHL. While his ice time may be reduced, we can anticipate Selanne to play a key role on the powerplay, having led the league in PPG's last year. Insofar as his regular role, which will likely feature an equatable setup-man in Doug Weight and (potentially) Chris Kunitz on an intimidatingly powerful second line, I like the Finnish Flash to flourish and peak at the as the playoffs loom.

Selanne should be commended for the haircut he took in the salary department, raking in a meager 600K throughout the balance of the season. However, the11 goals and 0.78 pts/game pace Selanne have amounted in the past two playoff runs in Anaheim will allow him to recoup lost income thanks to the playoff incentives undoubted written into the contract.

Lastly, is anyone else amazed at how good Brian Burke is? There are few men in hockey, not just GM's, that rival this mans' organization abilities. Since leaving Vancouver for sunny Anaheim, they have been perennial threats in the tough Western Conference. The maneuvering this season has been calculated since the end of last year and I assure you there are few people, other than Ken Holland (Detriot), who possess the moxie to orchestrate this type of unprecedented success in the salary cap era.

Come back tomorrow to check in on Cloud9 Sports: State of the Sports Address Part Two on the NFL and PGA. Thanks for reading, Cheers – Derek.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

NFL: Is Tom Bradys' Boot Bill Belichicks' Brilliance?

In a league where coaches work 18h days, it's no surprise that gameplanning and probability are so vital in the NFL. It is equally intuitive that Coaches will go to extreme lengths to gain an edge. By displaying their star player with a potential flaw, the NE Patriots have indeed set up their opponents for an unforgettable thrashing at the hands of the most potent offense in NFL history. This is how the best coach in football turns his oppositions' greatest strength into its mortal flaw.

By now most NFL fans have seen this photograph of Tom Brady wearing a protective boot on his right foot one day after defeating the San Diego Chargers in the AFC championship game. Most casual observers might take this at face value, but in our world where we know less about the internal workings of the New England Patriots than the CIA, I am not one such casual observer.

If you thought it was uncharacteristic of a Superbowl quarterback showing up on the streets of NYC with a walking cast 13 days before the Championship game, you are not alone. Is this anomaly not more intriguing given that we're dealing with the best coach-QB tandem since Bill Walsh and Joe Montana? Indeed it is worthwhile to consider the possibility that Coach Belichick and Tom Brady colluded with one another to ultimately influence the outcome of the Superbowl. It's not outside of Belichick to do whatever it takes to win, but this? Really?

Yes. If Brady were legitimately injured to a point where it may jeopardize his performance in the Superbowl, in no uncertain terms would he be advertising it on a day trip Giselle Bunchens' house – a trip routinely featuring Brady and an army of celebrity press looking to gleam a prized photograph for the hot sheets and celeb rags. Both Brady and Belichick knew of the injury following the game Sunday, regardless of the extent of said injury, and both knew that any public appearance would be photographed and documented. Never one to dismiss an opportunity to exploit his opponents, perhaps Belichick proposed a visible walking cast, in favor of a slightly less significant limp or hobble about, knowing full well the potential impact of the whole affair on the Giants' preparation. Skeptical? Read on...

Consider the possibility of this unorthodox gamesmanship in concert with the defensive game plan to beat New England: rush Brady with everything you've got, take Randy Moss out of the game, and hope the secondary can hold tight coverage on the remainder of the Patriots receivers. These highly predictable strategic initiatives are imperative for the success of Tom Coughlin and the Giants, since allowing a breakdown in any one of these three vital areas will undoubtedly result in to defeat.

With a perceived decrease in Bradys' already limited mobility, one must deem it reasonable for Coach Coughlin to maneuver towards capitalizing on this considerable vulnerability. By designing more blitz packages and increasing the pressure on Brady by the Giants front seven, Coughlin is unknowingly playing right into the hands of New England. With more men devoted to the pass rush and consequently fewer men dropping back in coverage, it will create a predictable scheme for the Patriots to counter and exploit – something they have assuredly started planning for. As Coughlin plays catch-up on a moped, Belichick can grab a snack while the attendant fills up the Carrera GT.

However ludicrous and speculative you mind find this discourse on a seemingly minor detail, remind yourself what Bill Belichick will do to give his team an edge. (The answer is anything and everything). Lest we forget the scathing criticism of the Patriots manipulating their weekly injury reports, which throughout Belichicks' tenure has listed Tom Brady as “probable” with a right shoulder injury. But I guess he's just a slow healer?

It should be an easier pill to swallow when you also take into consideration what is at stake: an immortal 4th ring for Brady and Belichick.

Look forward to much more to discussion on the Superbowl in coming days, stay tuned and enjoy the newest podcast in a few days time! Cheers, and thanks for reading; Derek.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Corporate NHL: We the dying stand united.

[Edit: Note the Date of Publication. JFJ was fired 4 days later (Jan22). Enjoy!]


General Managers all over the league have been outspoken with their steadfast disapproval of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainments' lack of professional etiquette and disrespectful conduct. Most prominently this furor is directed at the 'debacle' (to quote Leafs' Coach Paul Maurice) characterized by the effectively labeled Lame Duck GM John Ferguson Jr., who thanks to MLSE's procedural malfeasance is presently handcuffed to the radiator staring at the Trade Hotlines off in the distance.

According to hardliner, and fellow GM Brian Burke, JFJ doesn't have a leg to stand on when he reaches out in the trade market. Burke draws from his experience as a lame Duck in Vancouver when he alludes to the near impossibility of making a deal considered equitable on both sides. When cornered similarly to JFJ, Burke claims that anchors and puck bags were the best offers available for his legitimate stars on the trade block – a consequence owing to the reluctance of his team to extend his contract. Just as with Ferguson currently, Burke -- and the rest of the league – knew then that he would not be returning the following season, thus forcing the Lame Duck to deal with insufferable GM's looking to vulture any valuable assets available.

Fergusons' long-standing inability to improve the roster of the Maple Leafs aside, the impact of MLSE and their managerial decision-making are complicit with their on-ice shortcomings. As the most profitable organization in professional hockey, they screwed their fans and supporters, their team and organization by refusing to extend Fergusons' contract. Irrespective of their intentions to retain JFJ in his current position, the assertion that he could perform in the straitjacket that is his current contractual situation is elementary and wrong; as is demonstrated above and historically.

While the other GM's vocally sympathize for their brethren, little else can be said for their efforts to improve JFJ's situation. The common bond among these men is inherently paradoxical: they are ALL trying to improve their team at the expense of one another (particularly at the trade deadline which rapidly approaches). With JFJ's current level of desperation palpable across the NHL, there is an understandable harmony between the empathy and blood lust among his cohorts.

In the near term, we will learn little from all of this. JFJ will be replaced and the Maple Leafs will unload undesirable contracts prior to the trade deadline and in the off-season. Barring further organization restructuring, the likelihood of an expedited return to greatness seems unlikely as the business of hockey will always come before the quality on the ice – something that has become increasingly evident for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs over the past decade.

However immoral and deceitful the conduct of MLSE brass, they must be reminded that years from now the boldly-listed black ink that marks Torontos' bottom line cannot, and will not, overshadow the epic disappointment that is their franchise.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cloud9 Sports Podcast #2

This 2nd installment of the podcast features a breakdown of the NHL playoff picture and an overview of the Divisional Playoffs in the NFL. [Note: I cut the portion where I compared Gary Beman and John Ferguson Jr. for the purpose of length. I will write that up as my next blog post.]


Monday, January 14, 2008

8 Radical Rule Changes to Revolutionize the NHL.

Hockey purest continue to deny changes are necessary, but reality dictates otherwise. The NHL needs needs to stop looking in the wrong places to improve (see: enlarged nets) and listen to these recommendations.

1. Bigger Ice Surface. It doesn't require much analysis to decipher why this would make the NHL game better. As the sun has shrank over the last few decades so has the relative size of the NHL ice surface with the increasingly larger men playing the game. Opening up the rink even fractionally will increase the defensive players' ability to move the puck up to the forwards (the most critical transition pass in hockey), in addition to providing skill players more room to negotiate down low, in the offensive corners. Expanding the rink hurts only the owners who must forfeit the revenue currently generated from the first few rows of pricey seating -- fortunately, most can afford it when adjusted for the greater good.

2. Balance the Schedule. Yet another shortsighted rule that has limited fan interest in the post-lockout era. The unbalanced schedule designed to create inter-divisional rivalries, in spite of those inter-conference, has depriving NHL fans of formerly more passionate and historical match-ups. At a time when the whole planet is expanding and embracing globalism, the NHL is foolishly isolating and disconnecting from it's fan base. To rectify, evenly distribute inter-conference contests amongst all 16 clubs and ensure each team in the NHL meets one another at least once per season.

3. Determine playoff seedings by raw point total within your conference. No more of this horrendous divisional non-sense. Once the schedule is balanced as per above, this initiative should be promptly inked into the rule book since teams are (now) playing inter-conference games in equal abundance, thus eliminating the any rationale in allowing divisional winners to steal the top three conference seeds. This will avoid mis-matches throughout the playoffs which often spoils some of the more competitive series prematurely.

4. Stop awarding points for LOSING.
Why does the NHL insist on being the only professional sports league to award the loser points – it's like a participation ribbon: lame and ineffective? It skews the standings by inflating the points awarded to average teams who are good in specialized situations, like OT and the shootout. This was an unfortunate consequence of the New NHL which can instantly be repaired by rewarding three points for wins (while keeping all other things equal). Increasing the incentive to win will award aggressiveness at the games' conclusion rather than the passivity the league endorses presently. In turn, the fans are treated with clearly enhanced entertainment value.

5. Make like International Hockey. Replace the Conference Finals with League-wide semifinals by mandating a crossover when only four teams remain. The Top Western team plays the low-seed Eastern team and vice versa. Doing so will ensure the utmost competition in the final stages of the Stanley Cup Finals – utopia given the talent disparity between conferences (a phenomena that spoiled the NBA championships this year past). The League-wide Semi Finals could see season-long rivals, or traditional match-ups (like original 6 teams) that cannot manifest under the current playoffs structure.

6. Allow GM's to compensate trades with CASH. The salary cap has created an era with restrictive and often unfeasible constraints when negotiating moves in player personnel. In other words, trades are now very difficult to execute, which has decreased the ability for fringe teams to acquire star power or depth for a playoff push Were teams allowed to share a portion of Player X's contract following a transaction, the GM's would have more than enough freedom to be active and improve their respective team. Creating this degree of freedom will also help reduce the frequency of these well-extended, often front-loaded contracts that have become emerged as a byproduct of this CBA.

7. Drop the Instigator Rule. With powerplay proficiency a make or break characteristic in the New NHL, we mustn't penalize enforcers who protect the (often entertaining) skill players. Removing the Instigator Rule will likely reduce the cheap-shots and poor conduct observed in recent memory, while ultimately creating fewer serious injuries. Not only are these changes in the interest of players and their safety, but they also benefit the fans. Say what you will about violence in sport, and I'll say this so you don't forget it: fighting is good for hockey. This rule is much like the stringent regulation on celebration in the NFL -- they penalize players for performing an act in which 90%+ of the fans actually WANT to see! Why diminish the entertainment value of sport in need of exactly that?

8. Contraction. The excess of teams in the NHL has diluted the talent pool initiating a decline in the quality. By contracting the league and reducing the number of teams in the NHL to 26, the NHL can effectively concentrate talent and improve the overall quality of the game. Think of the impact that 12 top-liners would have on leagues remaining clubs by imagining what it would be like to add Eric Stall up front. (Yes, hint: Carolina, Tampa, Atlanta, Florida should get axed.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

So, you don't wanna Read: Cloud9 Podcast #1

Here is the FIRST ever podcast. I promise they will improve over time as I gain a better feel for the medium and the process of audio splicing and engineering. I can also assure you this was FAR more challenging that I ever could have thought. In the future, I'll add more production and shorten the content.

This issue: Roger Clemens and Steroids Explained, talk of why the New England Patriots and their 16-0 is important, and lastly -- why the Leafs should trade Sundin.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How the Outdoor Games return the NHL to Greatness.

Anticipated by notable sports personalities to be an inevitable disaster, the pleasantly robust entertainment value provided by contest between the Pens and Sabres lowered the collective blood pressure of the events' anxiety-ridden organizers. While slightly compromised by the uncontrollable flurries which plagued visibility and puck handling throughout the latter portions of the 'Ice Bowl', the viewing public was treated to a event of exceeding quality.

What was billed as a vital showcase for the great winter game, The Winter Classic in Buffalo on New Years Day left few of the 73,000 fans disappointed. They were treated to a Crosby-assisted goal 24 seconds into the game, a flurry of pressure from the home Sabres in the second frame in an attempt to tie, and eventually a value-added overtime and shootout session with the GWG scored by none other than Sid the Kid to hoist the Penguins to a 2-1 victory.

An event of this nature requires more behind the scenes preparation than most have the capacity to imagine prompting many to question the NHL's ability to pull it off. With a little less than the time required to freeze the surface – let alone construct a structure apt to support an official NHL game – Dan Craig and his team responsible for the makeshift rink at Ralph Wilson Stadium proved as valuable to the game as Crosbys' shootout winner. While temperatures hovered in the trouble area slightly above freezing, players seemed pleased, if not sympathetic with the quality of the surface which allowed a spirited New Years Day hockey game to compete for television viewers with the 6 NCAA Bowl games – a goal for the organizers from the outset.

Ultimately this game was bigger than Crosby and the Penguins, bigger then the Sabres and Ralph Wilson Stadium. It was about the vitality and prosperity of the NHL which is centered prominently around improving their status with US-based TV broadcasters. Television largely dictates the financial wellbeing of the aforementioned groups, making it a decisive initiative for the long term success of the NHL.

North American corporatism has long since bled its way into sports marketing and brand management for all of the major sports leagues. This success of the showcase that was the Winter Classic, while executed with much luck and a comparable dose of hard work, allowed the fanatics – both watching on TV and in person – to embrace the quality that is the NHL. Notwithstanding the unexpected lack of offense and the unfavorable weather conditions, this sessions outdoor game has proven positive in countless avenues for the NHL and the game of hockey. Fan support was strong and unwaivering, as most were seen in their seats at the conclusion of the game, in addition to their financial contributions not limited to tickets and concessions, but on site sales of Winter Classic merchandise estimated in excess of a cool million(courtesy of The Sports Business Journal).

Following this raving success, the perceived interest of the viewer on behalf of the TV networks is very high, a factor that is paramount to forging desirable avenues to market and promote the game. NBC even had Bob Kostas hosting their telecast. He may not have the savvy wit or charisma of Ron Burgundy, but he IS a big deal. These two factor will support the NHL's push to reassociate itself with EPSN at a point which the temporal dynamics couldn't matter more. ESPN and the NHL are currently around the negotiating table trying to strike a mutually beneficial deal for broadcasting rights to the 2008-09 season. On the heels of surprisingly high traffic on the NHL pages of ESPN.com and a successful showcase in the form of the Winter Classic, surely the NHL will regain some much needed leverage after shafting ESPN in favor of Versus two seasons ago. Wish them luck, as a blossoming relationship with the Worlds leading producer of sports-related content is a giant step towards enhanced notoriety for the NHL.

With the success of the NY Day game in the books, we move forward in anticipation of the inevitable discussion regarding subsequent outdoor games which already brews loudly in speculative commentary throughout the sports world. Any such discourse is promptly met with a devils advocate quick to point out the lesser points of these outdoor events. Is it a gimmick that will wear off? How many other cities will support an outdoor game? Are spectacles like the 2003 Heritage Classic in Edmonton and the 2007 Winter Classic in Buffalo a novel modality to promote and market hockey to emerging/struggling hockey markets? The continued success of these special events further supports annualizing the outdoor on-ice combat, but not without modification.

Don't have it on January 1st. The competition from other popular sporting events is more than slightly problematic, but was touted as reason enough to sink the TV ratings for the 2007 version straight into the sewer. Fortunately, the TV rating eclipsed those of the past decade to a level not recorded since the 1990's (courtesy of NBC). Why not host the All Star outdoors? It would provide a stimulating twist to the frequently lackluster NHL All Star festivities, deeming it worthy of consideration. In doing so, alleviated are the concerns regarding cancellations due to weather, or other unforeseen elemental difficulties; a factor that will certainly strikes a cord with the risk-management oriented among NHL executives worried about points allocation and playoff implications should an outdoor game start and fail to finish. Either way, just get Sidney Crosby out there and everything should work itself out. Or maybe we should just ask him how to organize more games in the future? I can see the bracelets now: WWSCD?