July 16th, 2014

Why Have I Been Away From Sports Blogging for So Long?

Jason Gay from the Wall Street Journal nails it:

The other part of following a sports team is the yearlong, all-consuming white noise of gossip and conjecture: hirings, firings, trades, executive machinations and maneuvers that sometimes happen but usually don’t. This stuff has always occurred but now it’s goosed and amplified and elevated into a mandatory part of the experience, requiring an attention span stretching well beyond the reasonable boundaries of the season. It’s exhausting. Sports are no longer hobbies. They’ve become graduate school.

There is one difference. Even if you go to graduate school, there’s still time for Summer vacation.

April 30th, 2013

Odds to win the 2013 Stanley Cup, Redux

Once again, the friendly folks at Bovada have sent along their published odds to win the 2013 Stanley Cup. But instead of just sharing the list of the 16 teams who have qualified for the playoffs, I’m including the entire list of all 30 NHL teams along with the odds that Bovada first published back this past January.

The first figure represents the odds that were published on January 7, 2013. The second figure are the odds Bovada is offering as of April 29, 2013. It makes for some interesting reading.

Team January Odds April Odds
Pittsburgh Penguins 8/1 7/2
New York Rangers 17/2 18/1
Vancouver Canucks 9/1 14/1
Los Angeles Kings 12/1 14/1
Philadelphia Flyers 12/1 Eliminated
Chicago Blackhawks 14/1 15/4
Boston Bruins 16/1 17/2
Detroit Red Wings 16/1 28/1
St. Louis Blues 16/1 14/1
Minnesota Wild 18/1 22/1
San Jose Sharks 20/1 16/1
Carolina Hurricanes 22/1 Eliminated
Washington Capitals 22/1 16/1
Buffalo Sabres 25/1 Eliminated
Edmonton Oilers 25/1 Eliminated
Nashville Predators 28/1 Eliminated
Tampa Bay Lightning 28/1 Eliminated
Montreal Canadiens 30/1 12/1
New Jersey Devils 30/1 Eliminated
Toronto Maple Leafs 30/1 20/1
Anaheim Ducks 40/1 12/1
Colorado Avalanche 40/1 Eliminated
Dallas Stars 40/1 Eliminated
Florida Panthers 40/1 Eliminated
Ottawa Senators 40/1 28/1
Phoenix Coyotes 40/1 Eliminated
Calgary Flames 50/1 Eliminated
Winnipeg Jets 50/1 Eliminated
New York Islanders 66/1 40/1
Columbus Blue Jackets 100/1 Eliminated

Keeping the original Bovada odds in mind, the Philadelphia Flyers have to be considered the biggest disappointment in the field, failing to qualify for the playoffs after getting out of the gate at 12/1. The Carolina Hurricanes also have to be seen as something of a mild disappointment, also failing to make the playoffs and starting the season at 22/1 following the offseason additions of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin. On the surprise side, you’d have to include the Montreal Canadiens (a 30/1 shot that’s already won the Northeast Division title), Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks (40/1 at the start of the season, but also a division winner), Ottawa Senators and the New York Islanders, though it looks like Las Vegas isn’t counting on them getting out of the first round.

So who do I favor now, while keeping in mind that I provide this advice for entertainment purposes only? At this point, I think the Ducks offer the best value bet at 12/1. Back East, I really like the Capitals at 16/1, especially in the wake of their late-season surge.

February 15th, 2013

The Top 10 Titles for the New Star Wars Movie Starring Harrison Ford

I just got the news that Harrison Ford has been signed to appear as Han Solo in a new Star Wars film, and after the complete disaster that was Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I was moved to comment. Without further adieu, here are my top 10 titles for the new Star Wars movie starring Harrison Ford:

10. The Empire Stole My Medicaid
9. The Return of the Geriatric
8. Han Dies at the End
7. Cash on Delivery
6. Wookies in August
5. Dazed and Confused
4. Silver Alert on the Kessel Run
3. Grumpy Old Space Smugglers
2. Driving Captain Solo
1. Alzheimer’s Strikes Back

Feel free to share your own in the comments.

January 7th, 2013

Odds to Win The 2013 Stanley Cup From Bovada

In case you haven’t heard already, barring some unforeseen complication, we’re going to be playing NHL hockey again in just a few weeks. And, as dutiful as always, the folks at Bovada were kind enough to share the odds they’re offering on teams to win the Stanley Cup.

Unsurprisingly, the Pittsburgh Penguins are coming out of the gates as the favorite to win it all at 8/1. Meanwhile, our local heroes, the Washington Capitals, are going off at 22/1 — the same odds as their Southeast Division rivals, the Carolina Hurricanes. You’ll recall that Carolina added Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin to their lineup, while the Caps patched up their lineup with the moral equivalent of spit and bailing wire by acquiring the likes of Jack Hillen, Wojtek Wolski and Joey Crabb.

Please be reminded that these odds are being provided for recreational purposes only.

Odds to win the 2013 Stanley Cup

Pittsburgh Penguins 8/1

New York Rangers 17/2

Vancouver Canucks 9/1

Los Angeles Kings 12/1

Philadelphia Flyers 12/1

Chicago Blackhawks 14/1

Boston Bruins 16/1

Detroit Red Wings 16/1

St. Louis Blues 16/1

Minnesota Wild 18/1

San Jose Sharks 20/1

Carolina Hurricanes 22/1

Washington Capitals 22/1

Buffalo Sabres 25/1

Edmonton Oilers 25/1

Nashville Predators 28/1

Tampa Bay Lightning 28/1

Montreal Canadiens 30/1

New Jersey Devils 30/1

Toronto Maple Leafs 30/1

Anaheim Ducks 40/1

Colorado Avalanche 40/1

Dallas Stars 40/1

Florida Panthers 40/1

Ottawa Senators 40/1

Phoenix Coyotes 40/1

Calgary Flames 50/1

Winnipeg Jets 50/1

New York Islanders 66/1

Columbus Blue Jackets 100/1

December 13th, 2012

Talking About the NHL Lockout on Coffee and Markets

Earlier today, I spent some time sharing my thoughts about the NHL Lockout (audio at link) with Ben Domenech and Brad Jackson of Coffee and Markets over at Red State. Please give it a listen.

April 18th, 2012

Should the NHL Add a Third Referee?

Just opened the following email from a long-time reader, one that was also addressed to my old friend Jon Press of Japers’ Rink as well as ESPN’s John Buccigross.


I am a long-time hockey fan, and have been a season ticket holder for the Capitals since the 1990′s (and a partial season plan holder prior to that). I have a suggestion, or at least a possibility for what to do regarding the violence, thuggery, what have you in playoff hockey.

Why not go to a three referee system?

I know that one of the complaints is that there aren’t enough “good” referees now, so increasing the need by 50% seems to be counter-intuitive. But isn’t it possible that the game is just so fast and there’s so much going on that two referees (assisted by two linesmen) just aren’t enough?

Here’s how I imagine it. You keep one referee on each side of the red line (or blue line if you prefer), and the third acts as a rover and goes wherever the play goes. The one who stays on half of the ice is responsible for goals and goalie interference, plus whatever else they happen to see, but mainly goals and goalie interference. The rover is responsible for watching other things that are going on around the play. The referee from the back side of the ice is responsible for watching what is going on BEHIND THE PLAY!

It’s instinctual to watch the puck and what’s going on with it at any given moment. But to have someone who is specifically supposed to NOT watch the puck at all times means that there’s less of an opportunity to pull shenanigans that aren’t seen by the refs.

It’s almost like in football, where each part of the officiating crew is assigned to watch something different, so that (most) everything gets seen. If you’re responsible for NOT watching the puck, that frees you up to notice other things that are going on.

Maybe this would prevent headshots away from the puck, provide more consistency on goalie interference calls (as that, and goals, would be the only responsibility of that referee at any given moment), and so on.

I know it’s not perfect, and you’re potentially diluting a shallow pool, but think about how much changed after they went to a two referee system, and how players found they couldn’t get away with stuff away from the play. Or think about how much the NBA changed when it went from a two referee system to a three referee system.

Anyway, just a thought. And as you are some of the most thoughtful hockey writers out there, I thought you might want to ruminate on it.

Keep up the good work.


Thanks to Todd for including me in his email. While I share his concern about some of the more recent incidents we’ve seen in NHL playoffs this season, I don’t believe that adding another referee would have deterred any of the more egregious actions. Over and above the fact that adding another official would crowd the ice, I’m afraid it wouldn’t get to the heart of the problem we’re seeing right now.

Like many other observers of the game, I think the league made a real mistake when it declined to suspend Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber after he smashed Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the plexiglass WWE-style during Game One of that Western Conference quarterfinal playoff series. Limiting Weber’s punishment to a $2,500 fine seemed to send a pretty clear signal to coaches and players that the league would be easing up on discipline in the postseason. Given what we’ve seen since, beginning on Saturday with Ottawa’s Matt Carkner attacking New York Rangers center Brian Boyle even as Boyle declined to defend himself, the thesis seems to have been borne out.

At the same time, I don’t want anyone to think I’m delivering this judgment with a tone of high dudgeon. The fact is that I believe that this playoff has been the most exciting in recent memory. The play, at least in my estimation, has been incredibly intense, something that has been borne out by the increasing television ratings. And it wasn’t lost on me that coverage of a hockey game was part of the intro on Sunday night’s edition of SportsCenter. Not only did the program recap the entirety of Game Three of the Pens-Flyers series, it followed it up immediately with a complete segment featuring Steve Levy and Barry Melrose — just the sort of attention that the league would have killed for back when ESPN was its cable television partner.

Like it or not, refereeing the NHL and policing on-ice discipline is an art, not a science. Use too heavy a hand, and the games will bog down into dueling power plays, something we saw frequently when the league returned from the lockout. In contrast, when you ease up too much, you get exactly what we’ve seen over the past week, with intense play escalating into something resembling street thuggery. To be honest, we’ve been very lucky that a player hasn’t been more severely injured.

I don’t envy the task at hand for NHL officials and league disciplinary czar Brendan Shanahan. In essence, they have to figure out how to keep a pot of water steadily simmering without boiling over onto the stove top. Crack down too hard, you’ll spoil the flow of the game and the television viewers will find something else to watch. Ease up too much, and you’ll get more UFC on ice.

So while I don’t think adding another referee will solve the problem at hand, don’t believe for a second that I don’t wish that the solution was that simple.

April 11th, 2012

After an Apology, Can Guillen Survive as Marlins Manager?

Ozzie Guillen threw himself at the mercy of the sports press yesterday in an effort to mitigate the damage from his puzzling decision to praise Fidel Castro in an interview with Time over the weekend. My question today at the Daily Caller: was it enough to help him save his job?

I put that question and others to Marc Masferrer, a veteran journalist and persistent critic of Castro:

The Daily Caller (DC): What was your first reaction when you read about Guillen’s comments to Time?

Marc Masferrer (MM): My first thought was that it was typical Ozzie Guillen, talking nonsense about something he obviously knew nothing about, being provocative for the sake of being provocative. Unfortunately, there are many people who really do admire Fidel Castro, so it was not a stretch for me to believe Guillen really believed what he was saying. I also was struck by how insulting he had been to a group of people who through ticket sales, souvenir purchases, etc., will be paying a large part of his salary as manager of the Marlins. He had really stepped into it.

You can read more from Marc at his blog, Uncommon Sense.

April 10th, 2012

Laying Odds on the Number One Pick in the NHL Draft

Got another note from Jimmy Shapiro and our friends at Bovada. Here are the odds on who will get the #1 pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Mind you, that’s not the team that will win the draft lottery, but rather the team that will ultimately get the first overall pick:

Columbus Blue Jackets 10/11
Edmonton Oilers 13/4
Montreal Canadiens 9/2
New York Islanders 6/1
Toronto Maple Leafs 7/1

And here are the odds on who will actually win the lottery, a team that after all could ultimately decided to deal the pick …

Columbus Blue Jackets 5/2
Edmonton Oilers 13/4
Montreal Canadiens 9/2
New York Islanders 6/1
Toronto Maple Leafs 7/1
Anaheim Ducks 11/1
Minnesota Wild 14/1
Carolina Hurricanes 18/1
Winnipeg Jets 20/1
Tampa Bay Lightning 20/1
Colorado Avalanche 25/1
Buffalo Sabres 25/1
Dallas Stars 33/1
Calgary Flames 33/1

April 10th, 2012

Odds to Win the 2012 Stanley Cup

My friend Jimmy Shapiro sent me the latest odds to win the Stanley Cup yesterday. The odds are courtesy of the good people at Bovada. Here’s the skinny:

Pittsburgh Penguins 4/1
New York Rangers 11/2
Vancouver Canucks 11/2
St. Louis Blues 15/2
Boston Bruins 8/1
Detroit Red Wings 12/1
Nashville Predators 14/1
Philadelphia Flyers 14/1
Chicago Blackhawks 16/1
San Jose Sharks 18/1
Los Angeles Kings 20/1
New Jersey Devils 25/1
Washington Capitals 30/1
Florida Panthers 35/1
Ottawa Senators 40/1
Phoenix Coyotes 40/1

The hometown Caps going off at 30-1 seems about right, though I like them to take down Boston, the defending champs, in Round One. In terms of value, I like Nashville, Philadelphia and Chicago. Odds on winning the Eastern and Western Conference are after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

April 10th, 2012

Talking Mets and Nats

For the second year in a row, I completed an email Q&A on the prospects of the New York Mets with my friend William F. Yurasko. Here’s an excerpt:

WFY: Are the “new” Mets uniforms (really the old Mets uniforms without the black) the best thing about the 2012 Mets? Do you prefer the classic pinstripes or the white “head spoon” home jersey?

EM: While I am happy about the new “old” uniforms, there are some reasons to be interested in the 2012 Mets. They’ve moved the fences in and made sure they were painted with the traditional blue and orange color scheme. David Wright seems completely healthy as does Johan Santana. And seeing Lucas Duda in the lineup every day is potentially exciting. The kid has got a big bat — I watched him hit a pair of dingers on Saturday afternoon — and he has the potential to turn even routine fly balls into an adventure.

There’s one thing I already got wrong: after winning three straight to open the season, I said the Mets were due for a fall. Then they went out and beat the Nats with a walkoff victory in the bottom of the ninth last night. Gotta love it when you’re wrong like that.

April 10th, 2012

Ozzie Guillen Praises Fidel Castro?

Before I got on the road yesterday to return to DC after spending Easter with the family on Long Island, I submitted a piece to the Daily Caller on Ozzie Guillen’s public praise for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Later today, I’ll be conducting an email conversation with Marc Masferrer, an old college buddy of mine who is one of the leading voices online concerning Castro’s human rights record. You can read his take on Guillen’s descent into madness by clicking here.

UPDATE: The Marlins have suspended Guillien for five games. He’s in front of the media right now in the process of trying to save his job.

April 4th, 2012

Pat LaFontaine and the Price of Looking Out for #1

As someone who grew up on Long Island rooting for the New York Islanders, it was impossible not to be distracted by yesterday’s Wall Street Journal feature on the fractured relationship between former Islanders player Pat LaFontaine and team owner Charles Wang.

The rupture stems from a dustup in 2006 between Wang and then-Islanders General Manager Neil Smith. Most accounts agree on a broad outline of what happened: Smith, accustomed to doing things one way, started to chafe severely under what he saw as interference from a meddlesome owner. Wang, who understandably felt like he ought to have outsized influence over an asset he owned, wasn’t happy that Smith didn’t get along with the program. The conflict escalated, until Wang decided to show Smith the door after just a few weeks on the job.

When that happened, all Hell broke loose in the press, with Wang taking much of the incoming fire. That shouldn’t have come as much of a shock. After all, Smith had contacts in the New York press back to his first stint with the Isles as a scout in the 1980s, contacts that he obviously tended to with frequency during his successful tenure as GM of the New York Rangers.

It was in the midst of that media firestorm that LaFontaine, then working as an unpaid senior advisor, headed for the exit. Which is where former General Manager Mike Milbury comes into the picture. Here’s what he had to say about LaFontaine’s departure to WSJ reporter Mike Sielski:

"Pat ran for the hills. Pat ran for cover," said Milbury, now an NHL analyst for NBC. "It was cowardly, and it was terrible. And if Charles was [ticked], I wouldn’t blame him in the least." LaFontaine declined to respond to Milbury’s comments.

I know that Milbury’s bombastic style leads plenty of folks to call him a jerk, but can there be any doubt that his take is 100% on target? In business, especially when the stakes are high, it’s important to know who your friends are. I don’t pretend to know the mind of Charles Wang, but I can make a pretty good guess about how he saw LaFontaine after he left the team: when the spotlight was the brightest and the organization was under attack, LaFontaine looked for a lifeboat.

LaFontaine took a look at the situation and decided he had to do what he needed to do in order to take care of himself and preserve his reputation — and who can blame the man for that? As I recall, that’s essentially the same thing he did before the start of the 1991-92 NHL season.

In those days, the Islanders were as dreadful on the ice as they are now, and LaFontaine was tired of sacrificing his body for a team with no chance to win. With few other options, the Islanders traded him to the Buffalo Sabres, a fact that mysteriously went unmentioned in the WSJ feature. Given that Wang didn’t own the team at the time of that deal, it’s easy to see how all was forgiven and LaFontaine was able to get back into the team’s good graces and snag the unpaid advisory job 15 years later.

So will LaFontaine be able to repair his relationship with the team again this time? I’m sure that he can, but it probably won’t happen until Wang sells the team. Unfortunately, by the time that comes to pass, the Islanders probably won’t be playing on Long Island anymore.

April 2nd, 2012

A Simple Truth About Sports Television

Came across an interesting graf in Phil Mushnick’s column at the New York Post over the weekend:

Even post-Dick Ebersol, the “NBC Sports Report” inserts remain comically dishonest. Saturday, anchor Julie Donaldson, in order, reported: LPGA results (the LPGA is now largely seen on Golf Channel, an NBC property), NHL (an NBC property) results, a promo for an Indy car race (to be seen the next day on NBC Sports Net), and news that fired Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber had been hired by Kansas State.

While Mushnick might be right, I’m having more than a little trouble working up any bile over something like this. Last time I looked, it’s 2012, and spots like the “NBC Sports Report” are hardly the only source that exists for breaking sports news when we’ve overserved by multiple national and regional cable sports networks, sports talk radio and that whole Internet thing the youngsters are so enthusiastic about.

As for Muchnick’s complaint about NBC using the spot to promote its own broadcast properties, excuse me if I stifle a yawn. ESPN’s own SportsCenter, which was once rightly termed, “a thinking man’s version of World News Tonight,” has devolved into nothing more than a vehicle to promote its own programming — endless coverage of Tim Tebow and Bret Favre even in the NFL offseason being an object lesson. And never forget, some folks have actually accused ESPN of actively working to destroy sports leagues that it doesn’t air.

Bottom line: all’s fair in love and ratings.

February 3rd, 2012

In Washington, Philly Fans Need Not Apply

The following note just turned up in my email box:

Dear Nationals Insider,

Let’s work together to keep Phillies fans out – it’s time to TAKE BACK THE PARK!

Starting today, single game tickets for the May 4-6 Nationals vs. Phillies series will be made available only to Nationals fans who reside in Washington, D.C., Maryland or Virginia.

To take advantage of this offer, click on the green Take Back the Park button below to register. Upon successful registration, you will receive an email with a one-time-use password to complete your purchase. Nationals fans may purchase up to eight tickets per game in one transaction, while supplies last.

We invite you to show your Nationals pride and TAKE BACK THE PARK!

Andrew Feffer
Chief Operating Officer

Click here to view a picture of the announcement. Washington sports fan will recall this is a move straight out of the Ted Leonsis playbook. Of course, the easiest way to take back the park is to put a better team on the field, and all indications are that the Nationals will be a bit better this season.

Might be time to sell the wife on a partial season plan.

January 20th, 2012

How Much for a Piece of Olympic History?

Ken Morrow, one of the heroes of the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team, is auctioning off the jersey he wore against the Russians. Click here for my thoughts over at The Daily Caller.

January 19th, 2012

Memo to Ed Reed: The Radio Microphone is Not Your Friend

Over at the Daily Caller, I take a closer look at Ed Reed’s ill-considered radio interview.

January 18th, 2012

PGA Golfer Commits a “Kinsely Gaffe”

Can somebody please get Matt Every a PR consultant?

January 13th, 2012

My Take on “Tebow-Mania”

Has any NFL quarterback had a better week off the field than Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos? I do a review at The Daily Caller:

January 12th, 2012

Why America Shouldn’t Want to Host Another Olympics

In my latest installment at The Daily Caller, I wonder out loud why in the world America would ever want to host another Olympics.

And if anyone was wondering, I don’t exactly have a great reservoir of affection for the folks who run the International Olympic Committee.

September 12th, 2011

MLB Short Hops 9-11 Tribute

This morning at The Daily Caller, I question whether or not Major League Baseball has its priorities straight when it comes to commemorating 9-11.

One of the more indelible images from the world of sport in the days following the 9/11 attacks came courtesy of the New York Mets. Wanting to find some way to honor the memory of the firefighters, police officers and paramedics who had died while evacuating the World Trade Center, the team took to the field for the first time after the attacks wearing baseball caps embossed with the logos of those first responders.

Last night in New York, the Mets were scheduled to play on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Several months ahead of time, as part of a larger pre-game ceremony remembering the tragedy, the organization asked Major League Baseball (MLB) if it could play that game against the Chicago Cubs wearing those same hats. You’d think the answer here was a no-brainer, but you’d be wrong. MLB said no, with the league warning that there would be heavy fines if any player or the organization as a whole defied its decision.

Needless to say, I’m scratching my head here.

September 9th, 2011

The TV News: ESPN Renews Deal With NFL to Carry Monday Night Football

After an absence of a couple of weeks, I’m back on The TV News covering sports television. In this week’s installment, we take a closer look at ESPN‘s massive renewal of its deal with the NFL to carry Monday Night Football.

September 9th, 2011

My New Column in the Daily Caller

After a couple of fits and starts, I’ve officially gotten back into the sportswriting game. Starting today, my columns will be appearing in The Daily Caller three times per week. In my debut, I write about the nonsensical suspensions that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell leveled on Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel. Click here to read it right now.

Thanks to everyone at The Daily Caller, especially Executive Editor David Martosko, for helping make this happen. Please be sure to check back in on Monday for my next installment.

July 11th, 2011

Semyon Varlamov’s Moment

After reading this interview of Semyon Varlamov by Katie Carrera, it was hard not to think of the high point of his time in Washington—namely, the first few minutes of joy after the Caps dispatched the Rangers in Game Seven of their first round playoff series in 2009.

Though Sergei Fedorov was the hero of Game Seven with a game-winning goal that nearly blew the roof off the place, Varlamov was the hero of the series after stepping in for a faltering Jose Theodore. Without his work in net, there’s little doubt in my mind Washington would have been dispatched in four or five games, and the historical clash between the Penguins and the Caps that took place in the next round would have never come to pass.

Running through the hallways on the press level in the moments after the end of the game, I made sure I had my video camera out and running once I got to the Washington locker room. And here’s what I saw when I got there:

Good luck to Semyon and thanks for that memory. It’ll last a very long time.

July 5th, 2011

The Solution to the 3-Ball Walk

When it comes to Major League Baseball these days, it’s hard for me to pay close attention to any team other than my New York Mets (middle age will do that to you). Which is exactly why I missed this news over the long weekend:

During the fifth inning of the Seattle Mariners’ 1-0 loss to the San Diego Padres on Saturday, Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin(notes) drew a walk on what everyone in the ballpark believed to be a full 3-2 count. The only problem was that Mariners pitcher Doug Fister(notes) had only thrown three balls in the at-bat.


The three-ball walk to Maybin was costly for the Mariners, as he eventually came around to score on an Alberto Gonzalez(notes) single. That ended up being the game’s only run, as the Seattle lineup only mustered two hits against Cory Luebke(notes) and three Padres relievers.

After Maybin scored, word began to buzz around the field and press box that a mistake had been made. But since no one protested and play kept going, the umpiring crew had to wait until the game had ended to review the play. Sure enough, they discovered that the count should have been 3-2 when Maybin was given the walk.

As embarrassing as this may be, there’s a very simple solution, and one that MLB has already established a precedent for. The only choice is to call a do over and replay the entire game from the incorrect call of ball four.

So what’s the precedent? Does anyone else besides me remember the pine tar incident?

July 5th, 2011

… And Exit Matt Bradley

Again, while I might be coming it late, let me add my voice to the chorus singing the praises of Matt Bradley as he departs D.C. for Florida after six solid seasons with the Caps. The move was pretty much telegraphed when Bradley’s agent let everyone know before the free agent signing period that Washington hadn’t offered him a new contract. It’s sad, but business is business, and from the looks of things last season, the team was more than happy with the emergence of Matt Hendricks, a player who stepped in and more or less stole Bradley’s role on the team for himself.

For me, lasting memories of Bradley will have to include his two-goal game against the Rangers in Game Five of a first round playoff series in 2009—a game that helped the Caps stave off elimination on their way to winning in seven games. But over and above that, I’ll just remember the incredible bravery and toughness he displayed time after time when he had to drop the gloves. You’ll recall that the team had declined to re-sign Donald Brashear after the 2008-09 season, which meant that the responsibility for taking on the other team’s heavyweights fell primarily to Bradley.

In the two seasons since Brashear left via free agency, Bradley piled up 15 fights, more than any other Caps player (though it should be noted that Hendricks piled up 14 majors in 2010-11, four more than Bradley last season). Perhaps his gutsiest moment came in the 2007-08 season when he had no choice but to drop the gloves with Boston’s Milan Lucic:

Normally, you’d think that Lucic would have sought out Donald Brashear. After all, according to the tale of the tape, Lucic has at least 30 pounds on Bradley. As fighters, they’re not even in the same class. If you follow "The Code," Bradley ought to have been able to decline Lucic’s invitation, but it’s pretty clear he didn’t want to let down his teammates even though he was clearly overmatched.

That’s the sort of bravery and guts Matt Bradley still has right now. The Florida Panthers are lucky to have him. Best of luck to Brads, who only did everything that was asked of him while he was in a Washington Capitals uniform.

July 5th, 2011

Enter Tomas Vokoun …

Unlike other folks who were watching the free agent news like hawks, on a holiday weekend, it was a little while before I discovered that Caps GM George McPhee had pulled off what looks like the coup of the free agency period by signing goalie Tomas Vokoun to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

While I find myself having a hard time adding anything that Ryan Lambert hadn’t already written at Puck Daddy, there is one important parallell that needs to be pointed out, namely, how McPhee has played the market so masterfully that he’s been able to create an absolute strength in net without having to pay a blockbuster price. Better still, it’s an advantage that’s going to exist for at least a few seasons into the future.

Next season, the combination of Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth in net will cost Washington just a shade over $2.6 million, with Braden Holtby stashed in Hershey for a little under $650,000 per year. So, in 2011-12, the past, present and future in net for the Washington Capitals will cost just $3.2 million, with a little less than a fifth of that cost (the Holtby contract) not counting against the salary cap. Compare that to Philadelphia, who will be paying just a shade above $5.6 million next year for Ilya Bryzgalov alone.

Let’s say next season that Vokoun takes the starting job and leads Washington to a Stanley Cup? If that’s the case, Washington will still have Neuvirth and Holtby under contract for the 2012-13 season for about $1.7 million. So, if Vokoun earns one last huge contract, and Washington decides it doesn’t want to pay, they can easily let Vokoun go and insert the tandem of Neuvirth and Holtby—something the team was prepared to do in the 2011-12 season in any case. And even if the converse occurs, the Caps are still set in goal for the forseeable future both in terms of personnel as well as the salary cap.

At bottom, it looks a lot like the situation that Red Wings GM Ken Holland has created in Detroit—one that’s given him the flexibility to fill out the roster in front of his very affordable goaltending. I’m having a hard time thinking of a better model in the NHL to emulate.

July 1st, 2011

Caps Make a Splash as Free Agency Opens

When Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said his team was going to be busy on the opening day of free agency, he wasn’t kidding. In just a few hours, three new players were added to the lineup, another was traded and another left Verizon Center voluntarily. Let’s take a look at how it all shook out.

Welcome Back Halpern: When I saw this deal pass over Twitter I couldn’t help but gasp. While others might not recall, Jeff Halpern’s departure from the Capitals wasn’t exactly on the best of terms. Not that anyone could really blame Halpern. At that point in his career, it looked as if it would be years before the Caps were a contender again. It was just as clear that he would be able to fetch a higher price on the open market than he would have had he re-signed with the Capitals.

So, he was off to Dallas, and well, while nothing was really said out loud, somebody around here wasn’t happy about it. The evidence: when the Stars came to Verizon Center the next season Halpern got the start for Dallas, ostensibly so he could get a nice hand from the locals on his first visit back home. Conincidentally, it was also the only time I can ever remember when the Caps failed to introduce the starting lineup of the visiting team.

Now, clearly all is forgiven. Unfortunately, welcoming back Halpern means saying goodbye to long-time good guy Boyd Gordon. His hard work all these years in a Caps uniform earned him a modest raise in Phoenix, one that the locals would soon not be able to afford.

The Varlamov Exile: The owner made it pretty clear today that he wasn’t terribly happy with the way Semyon Varlamov and his agent were playing games in the press, but something tells me that Varlamov’s agent played this the best way he could. Simply put, there is only space for a pair of goalies on an NHL roster. Unfortunately, the Caps had three who could legitimately lay claim to a starting job. Varlamov, who saved Washington’s bacon in the playoffs two seasons ago against the Rangers, wanted the job for himself along with a requisite raise. Management, however, clearly had other ideas with cap space at a premium.

When you look at it that way, it’s a little easier to understand why Varlamov and his agent made so much noise with the KHL option. The Caps made it clear they couldn’t guarantee what he wanted, at least not right away, and the games began. Which is right around the time that General Manager George McPhee found a dance partner in the Colorado Avalanche—a team that apparently had draft picks to spare. Boom! Problem solved, with Washington picking up two picks in next year’s draft, with one that could be from the lottery.

Fill and Patch: Neither the signing of Joel Ward nor Roman Hamrlik will go down in history as transformative deals for the Caps. Both players fill a need, and are doing it for reasonable prices. Ward seems to be a younger version of Matt Bradley, (a man who will find work elsewhere after good work here in DC) albeit with a little more scoring touch. As for whether or not Ward can kick it up a notch in the playoffs again as he did with Nashville last Spring, I’m not sure I’d count on that just yet. As for Roman Hamrlik, he’s better in his own end than you might imagine, salted with just enough offensive talent to keep most folks happy. Who knows, with a lefthanded shot, he might just be able to step in on the point opposite Mike Green and let Alex Ovechkin move down to the halfboards on the power play.

So what’s next? According to Cap Geek, the team has a little more than $2 million of cap space left with Troy Brouwer, Karl Alzner and Braden Holtby still needing to be paid. Long story short: expect some bodies to be moved shortly. As fast as this offseason started for the Caps, it doesn’t look over yet.

May 27th, 2011

A Suggestion for the Second Edition of “Those Guys Have All the Fun”

I’m a little less than halfway through reading the Kindle edition of Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by Jim Miller and Tom Shales. And while I’m enjoying it, a lot of it is very familiar to me thanks to having already read Mike Freeman’s excellent ESPN: The Uncensored History. Here’s hoping that the publication of the new book—already at #2 on the Amazon.com bestseller list—helps more folks find Freeman’s book.

Over lunch, I was reading a particularly funny passage where former SportsCenter anchor Charley Steiner talked about how he was reduced to tears on air after watching a clip of Carl Lewis butcher the Star Spangled Banner before a basketball game. Even better was getting some inside scoop from Jim Rome about his famous on-air confrontation with NFL quarterback Jim Everret.

As I was reading on my iPad, I couldn’t help but wonder why those clips weren’t embedded in the electronic version of the book. Here’s hoping that’s a project already outlined on someone’s drawing board.

May 26th, 2011

Underestimate John Isner at Your Peril

Yesterday in the opening round of the French Open, defending champion Rafael Nadal was pushed to the limit by American John Isner before winning in five sets, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-4. But while some are choosing to whisper about how Nadal is now suddenly vulnerable in a tournament he’s previously owned (yesterday marked the first time he had lost a set at the French since 2009, and the first time he had ever dropped a set in the first or second round), I have to ask another question out loud: what in the world were the people who put together the draw at this tournament thinking when they matched Isner against Nadal in the first round?

Make no mistake, when a tournament pits you against the defending champion and top seed in the first round, they’re sending an unmistakable message to you and the rest of the tennis world. At bottom, they’ve decided that you’re the weakest player in the entire draw, the guy that the top dog deserves to play by dint of his past accomplishments. So, if Nadal is like Duke or Florida, Isner is a sub .500 team from a mid-major who hit a hot streak in March and won a conference tournament. Then again, given the way things shook out, maybe it’s 1989 and Nadal is Georgetown while Isner is Princeton.

In any case, given how he pushed the tournament’s top seed to the wall in the first round, it ought to be clear that the Georgia grad deserved a heck of a lot more respect than the folks at Roland Garros were willing to give this time around. Then again, it wasn’t like they didn’t have any indication that Isner could pull off a performance like this one. Did they not watch Wimbledon last year?

At 6’9", Isner is the Zdeno Chara of men’s tennis. When I first encountered him at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington several years ago, I watched him cut through half of the draw with a service game that flummoxed even the game’s best players. At the time, Andy Roddick, who would go on to defeat Isner in the 2007 final, said that playing against Isner was just like playing against anyone else—as long as that anyone else was allowed to serve from two feet inside the service line.

For me, the highlight of the tournament that year had to be stifling my own laughter while watching Gael Monfils sputter through a post match press conference after losing to Isner in the semifinal. He clearly couldn’t understand how or why he managed to lose to a man who boasted nothing but one of the most devastating serves in the game.

Perhaps the folks who put together the draw for this year’s French Open should have taken some time to listen to their countrymen. Maybe next year, they’ll pay Isner the respect he’s earned, and award him the sort of seed that will propel him to a lengthy stay at Roland Garros.

May 17th, 2011

Officially Still Open for Business

A friend sent a note to me today asking if Off Wing Opinion was "officially" on hiatus.

The answer is no. I reserve the right to come and go as I please without notice, official or otherwise. Expect more soon.