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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