Archive for February, 2004

February 19th, 2004

An Off Wing Field Trip?

At the suggestion of one of my readers, I’ve decided to schedule a get-together for my readers in Washington, DC — and what better way to do it than at a hockey game?

What I’d like to know next, however, is when we ought to schedule this. I’ve perused the remainder of the Capitals’ schedule, and here are some dates that work for me:

March 8th vs. Ottawa — The return of Peter Bondra!
March 20th vs. Atlanta — Dany and Ilya come to town. . .
April 3rd vs. New York Rangers — Watch Glen Sather coach his last NHL game!

We could meet ahead of time at a local watering hole, then decamp for the game. I don’t feel comfortable putting together a group order, but believe me, there ought to be plenty of seats for any and all of these games. Just buy a seat in the 400 level, and we ought to be able to gather in any area we like up top.

Leave your comments/suggestions in the box below, or send me an email. I’ll take a look at all the responses, and figure things out from there.

 
February 19th, 2004

NHL Roundup

We have a tie at the top of the Western Conference, and for that we can thank the Edmonton Oilers. Last night in Denver, Edmonton awoke from a season-long coma to rout the Colorado Avalanche 5-1. Ryan Smith had a goal and two assists, and Tommy Salo got the win in goal, though he only had to face 15 Colorado shots.

Back in Hockeytown, the Wings beat Phoenix 5-2, as Brett Hull scored the 263rd power play goal of his career, to tie the NHL record held by Tampa Bay’s Dave Andreychuk. Kris Draper continued his surprising season, scoring twice. With the win, Detroit moved into a tie with Colorado for first place in the West, with 78 points.

Elsewhere in the West, Dallas cut into San Jose’s lead in the Pacific, getting a 4-3 win over the Kings at home. Mike Modano scored twice. Meanwhile in Nashville, the Sharks got stomped 7-3 by the Predators, as new acquisition Steve Sullivan got a hat trick in his Nashville debut. Kimmo Timonen also scored twice for Nashville. Dallas trails San Jose by six in the Pacific. And there are signs of life in Anaheim, as the Ducks beat Columbus, 3-1.

Back East, the Islanders passed the Canadiens in the standings after a 4-3 win over the Penguins. Marius Czerkawski scored two power play goals for the Islanders. Up in Buffalo, las Panteras temporarily derailed the surging Sabres, forcing them to settle for a 1-1 tie. Roberto Luongo had 41 saves for Florida (back home in Broward County, the financial picture for the team is not so good). After the game, the Islanders sat in seventh with 66 points, Montreal two behind in eighth with 64, and Buffalo in ninth with 61.

To read more about the current travails of the Habs, check out Joe Tasca. To find out why the stretch run will be most brutal in Montreal, read the Rodent. To get an update on some bad news for the family of Jose Theodore, click here.

With five-time All-Star Peter Bondra traded to Ottawa, Washington Caps fans are in a rage — at least on the team’s message boards.

 
February 18th, 2004

Exit Peter Bondra

When I heard the news today that the Washington Captials had Bondra, along with linemates Michal Pivonka and Dmitri Khristich, had been touted as the future of the franchise? Could Bondra, still seemingly as fast as ever, actually be 36 years old, and winding down a career in relative obscurity in Washington?

Bondra came to Washington in 1990 in the wake of the end of the Cold War — an event that was an absolute boon to ice hockey in terms of supplying the league with skads of new talent. It was an odd time, as the Caps were still reeling from the departure of Scott Stevens to St. Louis via free agency. Throughout the 90s, the Capitals were an anonymous blue collar bunch — not terribly talented offensively, but disciplined in their own end, and relatively dangerous counterpunchers.

But while his game didn’t exactly mesh with the team’s character, his personality certainly did. In a way, that worked against him, as lesser talents grabbed more press attention, Bondra just kept scoring goals with few outside Washington bothering to notice. Unfortunately for him, more often than not he was the team’s only real offensive threat, a hard fact of life that made him something of a marked man come playoff time. And every year, as the Caps continued to fall short in the playoffs, he bore much of the blame.

But without any other talent around him, he really wasn’t to blame. Meanwhile, he was one of the few Captials to actually live in Washington year round. You got the sense he really liked it here, and along with goalie Olie Kolzig, was pretty much the most popular player on the team. And as time went on, and he kept scoring goals, he only got more popular.

And as he matured, so did his game. Concerned with nothing more than padding his offensive totals early in his career, Bondra eventually developed an all-around game you could admire. That was never more apparent than three seasons ago, when the Caps acquired Jaromir Jagr from the Penguins. The contrast between the two players couldn’t have been more striking. Jagr, an incredible natural talent, never, ever looked like he was working very hard. On the other hand, it was clear that Bondra didn’t leave anything on the ice, playing a game that took him up and down the length of the playing surface.

He played the point on the power play. He killed penalties. And this season, he was sold on taking on the mission of shutting down the top enemy skaters. And he did it all without complaint.

Black, Red and Gold seems pretty excited about Bondra coming to Ottawa, and he ought to be. What you’re getting is a dedicated professional who won’t leave anything on the ice.

One day, his number will hang from the rafters at MCI Center. But first, there’s other business to take care of.

If Ottawa gets to the Finals, I know who I’m rooting for.

 
February 18th, 2004

Decolletage And Double Standards

I only watched the NBA All-Star Game long enough to catch Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle looking decidedly uncomfortable as he was being introduced during the pre-game, but I apparently missed Beyonce Knowles uncovering plenty of skin for the TNT cameras.

Matt at The Goat Belt has some questions:

Am I missing something? How come no one is outraged about Beyonces copious boob-spillage at the NBA all-star game? I’ll grant you that the nipple is still in there, but isn’t there almost as much actual boob-tissue exposed as there was at Janets whole debacle. Whats the difference here? Was this performance more tasteful somehow?

I can understand Matt’s confusion, but the issue here is pretty simple. The Super Bowl is the most watched entertainment event of the year, and it’s always on broadcast television. The NBA All-Star Game migrated to cable last year, meaning not as many eye-balls were peeled during Ms. Knowles provocative performance.

But the real bottom line is that while the FCC is perfectly within its rights to throw a fit over “broadcast indecency” (insert your definition here), it really can’t say the same about cable, which after all customers pay for.

Had such a performance traveled over the “public airwaves,” you can bet the FCC and assorted other politicians would have pitched a requisite fit.

Besides, it’s far more fun for politicians to grill the folks at Viacom, CBS, MTV and the NFL in a way that plays to their political constituencies.

Thanks to Costa Tsiokos for the link.

 
February 18th, 2004

Time Ticking Down On Baseball, Steroids

Late last night, we finally got confirmation of what plenty of folks already suspected — that there are a number of Major League Baseball players who use steroids:

The personal weight trainer for San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds admitted to authorities last September that he gave anabolic steroids to several professional baseball players, according to an affidavit unsealed Tuesday.

The trainer, Greg F. Anderson, 37, provided names of the players to investigators, according to the affidavit, but federal officials said they have chosen not to release them at this time because the players have not been charged with a crime.

It’s a little different when the news comes from a court proceeding involving federal authorities, instead of from washed-up ex-ballplayers, doesn’t it?

Though no one has been named yet, it’s only a matter of time. And only a matter of time before baseball will find itself hip deep in a scandal that will make Sammy Sosa’s corked bat look like a story on the transaction page buried in agate type.

UPDATE: That didn’t take long. Looks like somebody is going to start getting some phone calls. Credit David Pinto with the link.

David also has some links to the Blogosphere turning on sportswriters bashing new Dodgers GM, Paul DePodesta.

 
February 18th, 2004

NHL Roundup

East-leading Philly took a tumble in Tampa Bay, losing their second straight game, 5-2 to the Lightning. Taking advantage, Ottawa crept one point closer and into second place after a 1-1 tie with Washington.

Back in Ontario, Boston jumped all over Toronto goalie Trevor Kidd, downing the Maple Leafs 5-2, and New Jersey tied visiting Minnesota 4-4.

The result: a log jam atop the conference. Philly still leads with 78 points, with Ottawa just two behind with 76. By dint of their Southeast Division lead, Tampa Bay has a hammer lock on the third seed with 72 points, but it’s clear they have their sights set higher (ESPN.com’s Jim Kelley takes a look at the Lightning). Toronto is in fourth with 76, with Boston one behind in fifth with 75, and New Jersey three further back at 72.

Six points — that’s all that separates first from sixth place in the East.

Elsewhere, Montreal continued its recent struggles, dropping a 4-1 decision to Atlanta. They remain tied with the Islanders in seventh place with 64 points, with the Sabres nipping at their heels.

Think Pat Burns might be losing some sleep the next few weeks, knowing that Lou Lamiriello just hired former Devils head coach Robbie Ftorek to coach the team’s top minor league affiliate, the Albany River Rats? It isn’t as if the team has a history of making coaching changes in the middle of a playoff race, does it?

UPDATE: Capitals owner Ted Leonsis watched his first game from the owner’s box at MCI Center since being suspended for an incident in which he got into an altercation involving a fan.

Not everyone in New York was excited about A-Rod coming to town:

Rick DiPietro has just one loss in his past 10 starts, but the Islanders goalie felt somewhat defeated yesterday when Alex Rodriguez pulled on a Yankees jersey.

“It’s definitely a blow to Red Sox Nation,” said DiPietro, a Massachusetts native and devout Red Sox fan.

 
February 18th, 2004

Taking A Second Look At The Naslund Hit

With a lot of my friends from the Pacific Northwest ready to assault Downtown Denver with pitchforks and torches, I thought it might be a good idea to take a second look at the hit Colorado Avalanche center Steve Moore laid on Vancouver Canucks Captain Markus Naslund last night.

Luckily for me, I’d recorded the game last night on my TiVo, so it wasn’t too tough to fast-forward to the end of the second period to watch the hit again. And then watch it in slow-mo. And then, super slow-mo. And then backwards.

After all that, I’m pretty sure I know what I saw:

With the Avalanche trying to break out of their own zone, Naslund tried to intercept the puck near the Colorado blue line along the left wing boards in front of the Vancouver bench. The puck caromed off the stick off the stick of the Colorado left wing (who I can’t identify), who was obviously looking to re-direct the puck to Moore, who was skating up ice but curling toward the center ice faceoff circle.

Naslund managed to get in the way of the puck, but only enough to slow it down, not enough to control it. The puck caromed back toward center ice, with Naslund in pursuit.

Following the progress of the puck, Moore had skated straight up the red line, and arrived at the puck about a stride and a half before Naslund. Realizing he probably wouldn’t be able to control the puck with Naslund nearby, Moore opted instead for a left handed sweep check to keep the puck out of Naslund’s reach.

Trying to gather the puck, Naslund lunged for it, and an instant later Moore laid his shoulder into Naslund, sending him to the ice.

Watching it in either real time or slow-mo, it’s amazing how innocuous the hit really looks. You don’t really understand how hard Naslund was actually hit until he slumps to the ice.

As many times as I play it back, the hit always looks clean. And I haven’t seen an angle yet that would indicate that Moore threw an elbow (though it may exist) — while others beg to differ.

Could Moore have laid up, and just given Naslund a glancing blow? Perhaps, I counted a little more than a second between Moore’s sweep check and the hit — more than enough in hockey time to make such a decision. But such a call would have run the risk of having Naslund slip by him and regain control of the puck.

Moore said he was just finishing his check, and after watching the video, I have little reason to doubt his word. As for the rage felt by Vancouver fans, believe me, I understand better than you can know. But after watching the shot over and over again, I’m left wondering just how the league could legislate against hits like this one.

In any case, the league’s top scorer will miss at least one week, and perhaps two. And in a league where entertainment can at times be in short supply, that’s no good, whether or not the hit was clean.

 
February 17th, 2004

Shame In Colorado

A few weeks back, I neglected commenting on the scandal engulfing the football program at the University of Colorado. But the latest news is so sick and vulgar, that more people ought to pay attention, and drive out the folks that made former Colorado placekicker Katie Hnida’s life a living Hell.

Hnida, as many of you may recall, became the first woman to score points in a Division I football game last season when she kicked a field goal for New Mexico State. But before she kicked for the Lobos, Hnida was a walk-on at Colorado during the early days of Gary Barnett’s tenure as head coach.

Her story isn’t pretty:

On her first day of practice Hnida found out how welcome she was. She says five teammates surrounded her and verbally abused her, making sexually graphic comments. During the season players exposed themselves to her “at least five times,” she says. “They’d go, ‘Hey, Katie, check this out!’” One player came up from behind, she says, and rubbed his erect penis against her.

Sometimes when the entire team was huddled up, Hnida says, players stuck their hands on her crotch or groped her breasts under her shoulder pads. “She endured more abuse than one person should have to bear,” former teammate Justin Bates says. Even as she practiced, players called her vulgar names and one fired footballs at her head.

Why didn’t she tell Barnett? “Because I was terrified,” she says. “He didn’t want me around in the first place. I thought for sure he’d kick me off [the team].”

The worst was yet to come. One summer night Hnida was watching TV at the house of a teammate. “He just starts to kiss me,” she recalls. “I told him, ‘That’s not O.K.’ Next thing I know he’s on top of me. I told him, ‘No!’ But he just kept going, ‘Shhhhh.’ I tried to push him off me, but he outweighed me by 100 pounds.” Hnida says he lifted her skirt, pushed aside her panties and penetrated her. She was a virgin. The phone rang, he reached for it, she slipped out from under him and ran.

I’d say more, but perhaps we should give the University of Colorado about 12 hours to make up its mind about what to do next.

 
February 17th, 2004

DePodesta De Resistance

Paul DePodesta, recently appointed GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is running into all sorts of flak from local sportswriters during his first day on the job. David Pinto has a roundup.

 
February 17th, 2004

A Mets Fan Manifesto

As you might imagine, seeing the New York Yankees acquire Alex Rodriguez has been a bitter pill to swallow for fans of the New York Mets. After all, when Rodriguez became a free agent, he essentially told the world he preferred signing with the Mets, the team he rooted for as a child in the Bronx (later, Rodriguez and his mother would move to Florida). But for reasons unknown, the Mets balked at his asking price, afraid that his presence might be more trouble than it was worth.

Steve at the Eddie Kranepool Society has some choice words for Mets fans who are whining in the wake of yet another Yankees coup:

IF THERE IS ANYTHING I HATE MORE THAN BLOW HARD HIGHLANDER* FANS, IT’S WHINING METS FANS

Please if your the type of so-called Mets fan that is stamping your feet over A-Rod going to the Evil Empire and your rehashing the Rodriguez to the Mets and your getting your boxers in a bunch and crying “I’m not going any games at Shea WAHHHH!!!!, WAHHHHH! WAHHHHH!, then go buy a little Highlanders cap and a pennant and NEVER COME TO THIS SITE AGAIN!

Avkash at The Raindrops has similar feelings. And let me take a moment to add my endorsement.

It’s safe to say that Mets fans have hated the Yankees more or less from the beginning. After all, just look at our team’s uniform, a hybrid of the Dodgers and Giants, two National League teams that abandoned New York for California. For the most part, at the beginning, Mets fans were the children and grandchildren of fans who were spurned by Horace Stoneham and Walter O’Malley.

But since sometime around 1976, when the Yankees won their first American League Pennant under the Steinbrenner regime, Mets fans’ disgust and hatred for the Yankees has intensified. Looking back, it seems appropriate that Steinbrenner took control of the Yankees in the wake of the Mets’ 1973 run to the National League pennant, as the game was about to be changed forever by free agency. And it was Steinbrenner who understood better than anyone how incredible a change it was, leaving the feebleminded Mets ownership in the dust as he acquired player after player to help rocket the Yankees back to prominence.

Now, it’s 30 years, 12 AL East Division titles, 10 American League pennants, and six World Series championships later, and Mets fans are really seething. Over the same period, all we have to show is two NL East titles (1986, 1988), two wild cards (1999,2000), two National League Pennants (1986, 2000) and one World Series championship (1986). All in all, in a league with 16 teams, that’s about average.

But with the advantage of playing in America’s largest media market, the Mets should be anything but average. Can we ever hope to match the Yankees? Perhaps over a century or more, there might come a time when another team will eclipse their greatness, but not in my lifetime. So perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about Steinbrenner and the Yankees, and start worrying about what we can control.

Here’s what we ought to be worrying about:

Honor our heritage as the guardians of New York National League Baseball: Look back at that original uniform my friends — because a lot of what we are is invested in it. No, we aren’t Dodgers and Giants fans, but do you really think anyone on the West Coast outside of Vin Scully gives a damn about Carl Hubbell, The Shot Heard Round The World, The Catch, 1947 and 1955? When we hear Frank Sinatra sing, “There used to be a ballpark here,” we know exactly what he’s talking about:

Now the children try to find it,
And they can’t believe their eyes
‘Cause the old team just isn’t playing,
And the new team hardly tries.
And the sky has got so cloudy
When it used to be so clear,
And the summer went so quickly this year.
Yes, there used to be a ballpark right here.

When the President of the United States had to choose a spot to commemorate Jackie Robinson’s debut in the Majors, he didn’t go to Los Angeles, and he didn’t go to Yankee Stadium. Instead, he came to Queens.

Did Jackie Robinson ever whine? Did Bobby Thomson? Did the Dodgers and Giants, after battling each other and the rest of the National League to a standstill, complain about having to face the Yankees in the World Series yet again?

No. Instead, they simply spit in the eye of the odds, and battled as hard as they could, win or lose. We ought to take a lesson from that. As a start, go back to the original uniforms, strip the player names off the back, and explain exactly why you’re doing it. Mere symbolism, you say? It will be, if you don’t back it up.

No more miracles: Here’s where we take a page from Bill Simmons over at ESPN.com. Just as he says that it’s long past time for the Red Sox fans of today to leave behind the Bambino’s Curse, it’s long past time for Mets fans to cease embracing the mythology of the miracle, as if that’s the only way we expect our guys to win. Instead, realize the 1969 team went 7-1 in the postseason because they had the best pitching staff in baseball, and it it hadn’t been for a number of cascading bonehead moves (trading Nolan Ryan for one), the Mets would have had a dominating pitching staff into the early 1980s. Ditto in 1973, where pitching and defense salvaged a bear of a season, and nearly won another World Series.

As for 1986, yes Bill Buckner helped, but the Mets won because their staff was five pitchers deeper than Boston’s.

My point: superior teams were built in Queens before, and they ought to be built here again.

Which leads us to. . .

Demand more of the front office, but demand it intelligently: Yes, you and I can actually make a difference. Now that folks like us who buy the tickets and purchase the official merchandise have a voice, we need to use it more often. Just don’t be shrill or childish about it. But do ask the Mets to at least be on top of the latest developments. Demand that we don’t overspend on washed-up players in lieu of investing in player development. Make sure some of that revenue, which ought to be among the highest in the National League, gets poured back into the team in an intelligent manner.

Bottom line: if Oakland can compete head-to-head with the Yankees year in and year out with a fraction of the payroll, then so should the Mets.

Is this all that needs to be done? No, not by a long shot. But it’s far past time to stop worrying about what the Yankees do, and start learning a lot more about how they do it.

POSTSCRIPT: For my hockey-loving readers, just understand that I have to have something to do between April and October other than ice hockey.
_________________________________________
*For those of you not in the know, the Highlanders was the Yankees’ original name when they first arrived in New York in 1903 from Baltimore (where they were known as the Orioles).

 
February 17th, 2004

New York Makes Way For A-Rod

Newsday continues to lead the way when it comes to coverage of the A-Rod to the Yankees deal, having just posted the first interview with Rodriguez since word of the deal leaked in the paper on Saturday morning:

I think this is an ideal situation for me,” Rodriguez said in his first interview since becoming a Yankee. “The way they came after me, the enthusiasm and energy they showed, makes me very proud to be associated with the Yankees organization. It’s a blessing to be in New York. It’s very flattering to be able to put the pinstripes on and play for a world championship contender.”

On the switch to third base:

He is not a shortstop anymore.

“It’s done, done, done,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish the last nine years. I’ve had a blast with it. But I’m looking forward to a new challenge. I’m so excited to play third base.”

Rodriguez said he didn’t even hesitate when asked to change positions.

“Making the move is the right thing to do,” he said. “I’m not looking to compete. I’m here to be a third baseman. No ifs, ands or buts about it. . .

“I already told Derek [Jeter] I’m looking forward to playing alongside him.”

That would seem to obviate the call from the paper’s Jon Heyman, who called on Jeter this morning to make way for Rodriguez by leaving shortstop behind forever and taking on just about any other open position in the Yankee infield. After reading Heyman’s columns over the last few days, I’m pretty much convinced he’s decided to stir up as much trouble for the Yanks in the pages of Newsday as possible.

 
February 17th, 2004

NHL Roundup

In Denver, the Canucks ended their three-game losing skid with a 1-0 win over Colorado. Daniel Sedin scored the third period game winner, and Dan Cloutier had 23 saves, but the big news was the hit that Avalanche center Steven Moore laid on Canucks Captain Markus Naslund that left the Swede bloddied and sprawled on the ice. After the game, Cancucks coach Marc Crawford was livid:

“He got a pretty nasty hit,” Crawford said. “It could have been an obstruction call, it could have been an elbow, but instead they call absolutely nothing. It mystifies me why this happens in this league. They talk about players not having respect for players. How about the officials? Should they not have respect for the leading scorer in the league?

“It was a cheap shot by a young kid on a captain, and we get no call. That’s ridiculous.”

I watched the game on Rogers SportsNet, and while the hit was nasty, the call wasn’t exactly clear, and could have gone either way. Vancouver has 74 points, and trails Colorado by four for the lead in the Northwest Division and the Western Conference.

Miroslav Satan scored four goals to lead the surging Sabres to a 7-2 rout over Atlanta. Back on Long Island, a third period goal by Aaron Asham gave the Islanders a 1-1 tie with the Kings. At the end of the day, the Islanders had tied Montreal for seventh place in the East with 64 points. Buffalo, who has two more games to play this week before meeting the Islanders Saturday on Long Island, is only four points back in ninth.

At the Mellon Arena, the Maple Leafs doubled up the Penguins 8-4, sending Pittsburgh to their 12th straight home loss, and 14th straight overall. Owen Nolan scored twice for Toronto. At the Compaq Center, the Sharks ended Philly’s five-game win streak with a 5-2 victory. Toronto, with 76 points, trails Philly for the top spot in the East by just two points. At Madison Square Garden, the Senators drop-kicked the Rangers 4-1 with a three-goal outburst in the third period. Ottawa sits in fourth place with 75 points, just three off Philly’s pace in the East.

In Anaheim, the Stars dropped further behind San Jose, losing a 3-1 decision to the Mighty Ducks. Dallas, with 64 points, trails Pacific-leading San Jose by eight. Back in Detroit, the Red Wings got two points they didn’t deserve in a 2-1 win over Edmonton. In the first period, replays clearly showed a puck off the stick of Ales Hemsky crossed the goal line, but the video replay judge inexplicably ruled no goal.

St. Louis dropped Phoenix, 4-2, moving the Blues past Nashville and into seventh place in the Western Conference. Speaking of the Predators, they lost to Columbus, 4-2, in a game where the Blue Jackets’ Manny Malhotra scored twice.

And finally, in a game critical to determining who will finish second in the brutal Southeast Division, Carolina beat Florida 3-1. The Hurricanes trail Las Panteras by just five points for second place in the division.

 
February 16th, 2004

Another Aprentice Leaves The Fold

Two years ago, it was J.P. Ricciardi who left a post with the Oakland A’s to become the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Today, the other member of the triumverate that helped revive the A’s along with GM Billy Beane, Assistant General Manager Paul DePodesta, got his own gig when he accepted the position of General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

One wonders just how much longer Beane will stay in Oakland.

 
February 16th, 2004

Welcome All-Baseball.com

In what may be a preview of how sports blogs can thrive on the Web, a bunch of baseball blogs have banned together to form all-baseball.com — “your one-stop shop for great baseball analysis.” From now on, all-baseball.com will be the exclusive home of:

Cub Reporter
Transaction Guy
Baysball
Bronx Banter
Mike’s Rants
Will Carroll
Dodger Thoughts
Mariner Musings
Rich’s BEAT
Next Year

Congratulations to everybody. May the cross-polination begin and attendance figures rise!

 
February 16th, 2004

Chad On The NHL

The Couch Slouch aka Norman Chad, has published a 10-point plan to save the NHL:

Get rid of the Canadian teams. It’s too far north and it’s far too cold up there. Sure, Canadians are some of the nicest people in the world, but we’ve been carrying the load for them for too long. (We gave them Coca-Cola and Madonna, they gave us Labatt’s and Celine Dion.) Plus, if memory serves correctly, I don’t think they lifted a finger when we invaded Iraq.

Don’t say Don Cherry didn’t warn you. But wait, there’s more:

Let’s also lose the Sun Belt teams. What, folks in Carolina, Florida, Nashville, Phoenix and Atlanta want to watch hockey in May? I think not. And let’s not stop with the Sun Belt — why does Southern California have the Kings and the Mighty Ducks? L.A. needs two hockey teams like Switzerland needs two navies.

Well, I have seen a hockey game in LA — on a Sunday afternoon when the outside temperature was somewhere in the vicinity of 70 degrees. But buried in the Shecky-like pitter patter is some hard truth:

Plus, it makes no sense to interrupt a season that people might not return to. If you take, say, a Blue Jackets-Hurricanes game away from the public, I’m not so sure they’ll be lined up around the block to see that baby when it’s rescheduled.

Yep, the truth hurts.

UPDATE: Ben Wright dissects Mr. Chad a little more closely.

 
February 16th, 2004

More On A-Rod

With the official announcement of the A-Rod to New York deal only hours away, Newsday continues to break stories around the deal, including the latest details concerning how the Red Sox made an 11th hour run at Rodriguez:

Multiple baseball sources said the Red Sox reached out to both the Texas Rangers and Rodriguez Saturday. In these discussions, the Red Sox offered to take Rodriguez and his bulky contract “as is” – a stunning reversal from their previous position.

According to a source, a mutual friend of both Rodriguez and the Red Sox approached the All-Star on Boston’s behalf. The acquaintance suggested that, unlike in the failed December negotiations, the team might be willing to take on Rodriguez’s entire contract. In December, the Red Sox had insisted that Rodriguez take a pay cut.

Saturday, Rodriguez enthusiastically told the go-between, “tell [Red Sox president] Larry Lucchino to – off!”

Ouch. This account basically confirms a lot of what Peter Gammons has been saying about Lucchino being the culprit for failing to close the deal to bring Rodriguez to Boston in the first place.

Elsewhere in Newsday, columnist Jon Heyman says it won’t be all hugs and kisses between Rodriguez and Derek Jeter in that crowded Yankees infield:

Once they were such great chums that they had sleepover privileges in each other’s apartment. But those days are a long-ago memory after a few skirmishes over women and Rodriguez’s pointed quotes about Jeter’s abilities built a wall between them. Jeter has many great qualities, but he doesn’t forget easily.

In recent years, there have been no play dates, only a couple of commercials and mostly chance meetings. There also have been a few long stretches when Rodriguez’s calls to Jeter went unreturned, according to friends.

The shortstops who will headline the world’s most famous infield for at least four years have a lot of catching up to do. Yet a common acquaintance said the pair had not spoken about the major changes in Rodriguez’s life that, like it or not, will bring them closer. Physically, anyway.

Another common acquaintance predicted tension will be unavoidable. “Derek and Alex will not coexist peacefully,” that ballplaying acquaintance said. “No way.”

Anyone for The Bronx Zoo, Book II?

Hat tip to Bronx Banter on the Gammons link.

UPDATE: Selig has approved the trade.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jack Curry of the New York Times says the A-Rod/Jeter friendship is solid again after an estrangement, though the most interesting tid bit came at the tail end of the piece:

When Michael Kay interviewed Jeter for YES recently, Jeter agreed to talk about Rodriguez’s being traded to the Red Sox so they would have a canned answer in case the deal happened.

I’d love to see that clip.

 
February 16th, 2004

NHL Weekend Roundup

Back in the Fall, I put my money on the Buffalo Sabres making the playoffs. After a slow start (in part due to the absence of Jochen Hecht), the team has put together a fine run as of late, capping it with two wins this weekend: an 8-3 drubbing of the Kings on Friday night, followed by a 6-4 defeat of the Maple Leafs on Saturday. Robert Reichel of the Leafs scored twice on Saturday, unfortunately his second goal was scored into his own net when his centering pass traveled the length of the ice. At the end of the weekend, ninth place Buffalo trailed the eighth place Islanders by only five points. The Sabres play four times this week, finishing up on Saturday night on Long Island.

In his first start following the departure of Dominik Hasek, and an injury to Curtis Joseph, Manny Legace looked anything like the answer in goal for Detroit, yielding four goals on 29 shots in a 5-2 loss to Colorado. When it comes to backup goalies, there are few in the league who are as good as Legace, but I’m afraid the story is going to be a tad different if Detroit is forced to rely on him for an extended period of time.

In scenic Kanata, hometown of Todd Simpson, the Senators took down the Canadiens 5-2 on Saturday night. The win was Ottawa’s third straight on their latest homestand, leaving the Senators tied for fourth place in the East with Boston. The misery continued for the Penguins, after they dropped their 14th straight game to the Blues, 3-2 in OT.

Down in Tampa, with the Southeast Division essentially wrapped up, the Lightning have their sights on bigger game — namely, the first or second seed in the East. They moved two points closer to that goal after beating Florida 3-2 on Saturday. With the win, Tampa Bay trails Toronto for the second seed in the East by only four points, with one game in hand.

The news is much the same in San Jose, as a surprising Sharks squad is using a weak Pacific Division as a launching pad for a successful playoff run. After their 2-1 OT win over Columbus on Saturday, the Sharks only trail Detroit by four points for the second seed in the West.

With a 6-2 loss to the Flyers in the books, and new acquisition Jaromir Jagr on the shelf with a groin injury, the Rangers are just playing out the string.

Meanwhile in Jersey, the Devils posted back to back wins: 4-1 over Carolina and 3-2 over the Kings in OT. But despite their recent play, Larry Brooks says a rift has developed in the locker room between the team and head coach Pat Burns — and the absence of Scott Stevens is to blame.

The good times keep rolling for the Flames, as they chalked up twin 2-1 victories over Anaheim and Minnesota. With 68 points, Calgary trails Vancouver by four for the fourth seed in the West.

For those of you looking for another angle on the NHL Armageddon storyline, check out Eric Fisher’s analysis that compares Gary Bettman’s strategy with that of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

Now, nobody ever wants to be compared to Selig, but then again, he did avert a baseball strike, didn’t he?

If you were wondering what Don Cherry did the other night, don’t worry, Tom Benjamin was on the case. He also gives thumbs up to the rest of the Hockey Night In Canada crew for their take on all the proposed rule changes.

And finally, the New York City Attorney General expects to receive an extradition request from Montreal any day now.

UPDATE: Colby Cosh has some more thoughts on Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and cultural confusion.

POSTSCRIPT: Other weekend happenings you might have missed:

After suffering his ninth concussion, Jeremy Roenick is considering retirement. With a Cup so close in Philadelphia, I can’t see him not coming back.

The league fined Tie Domi $1,000, and the Leafs another $5,000 for his autographed stick incident last week. I hope Jody Shelly held onto that stick, as something tells me it might be worth as much as Domi’s fine if it were auctioned on Ebay.

With two assists in a game against Vancouver the other nigth, Sergei Fedorov reached the 1,000 point mark in his career — the first Russian-born player to do so. Congratulations.

 
February 15th, 2004

Happy Valentine’s Day, Aaron Boone

It’s been an up and down tenure for Aaron Boone in the Bronx, hasn’t it? First, he come to New York hailed as the answer at third base — one the Yankees have been more or less perplexed with since the retirement of Scott Brosius. But it wasn’t long before Yankees fans learned to love to hate Boone, as his skills at the plate seemed to desert him just about as soon as he arrived.

Then again, things changed in a New York minute for Boone after he crushed a Tim Wakefield pitch into the left field bleachers to win Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. And no matter how Boone did from there, his place in Yankees lore was secure — or so it seemed. For it wasn’t too long after the team’s loss in the World Series that Boone suffered a knee injury in a pick up basketball game — leaving the Yankees scrambling for a replacement at third base for next season.

Of course, by now, you know the rest. Kind of amazing, isn’t it, even misfortune somehow turns out to favor the Yankees — and in a way that mocks both of their biggest rivals. And it was all because the Yankees acquired a slightly better than average corner infielder for the stretch run. The result: another ALCS win, and the acquisition of the best player in the game.

If you’re a Yankee fan, think hard about sending Boone that belated Valentine’s greeting. It’s the least you could do.

POSTSCRIPT: The reaction at Boston Dirt Dogs is predictably apoplectic. David Pinto thinks Derek Jeter is the one who ought to move to third base. Bambino’s Curse is defiant, which is the way Sox fans ought to be. As I recall, that Yankees pitching staff isn’t looking all that fearsome this year. Bronx Banter is salivating at the prospect of A-Rod coming home to the Bronx. Larry Mahnken is already pulling out comparisons to acquiring the Babe, as early as it may be.

Ben Domenech is atypically giddy. Jason Scavone is wondering if the Red Sox might blunder into a mistake in an effort to counter.

 
February 14th, 2004

The Silver Lining

Sure, the U.S. under-23 team might have lost to Mexico 4-0 this week, losing out on a chance to go to the Athens Olympics. But John Haydon of the Washington Times puts things in perspective:

Four years ago, the U.S. team played its Olympic qualifying games in the comfort of Hershey (Pa.) Stadium and had an easy ride. But let’s face it: Mexico’s victory this week can never make up for the loss the Mexicans suffered at the hands of Landon Donovan and Brian McBride in South Korea in 2002, and that’s what really counts

 
February 13th, 2004

NHL Roundup

Colorado again has the league’s best record after a 4-0 win over St. Louis. David Aebischer, who may just be keeping the starting job warm for Phil Suave (at least until Pierre Lacroix finds somebody willing to hand over a front line player in return), had 29 saves in the shutout win. After the loss, St. Louis is now in ninth place in the West, by dint of the tiebreaker with Nashville. Blues coach Joel Quenneville probably doesn’t sleep at night much these days.

Sean Burke’s return to the net (26 saves) with the Flyers was a successful one, as a late goal by Sami Kapanen helped Philly edge the Rangers, 2-1. But it was a costly victory for the Flyers, as they lost both Jeremy Roenick (broken jaw) and Keith Primeau (knee) to injuries — Roenick when he was struck in the cheek by a puck off the stick of Rangers defenseman Boris Mironov. As Roenick got up from the ice, he was cheered by the crowd at Madison Square Garden.

BTW — the Rodent says the refs should have consulted the video replay judge on the disputed Jagr goal. Captain Off Wing has seen the video, and is in agreement.

In Toronto, the Maple Leafs kept pace with the Eastern leading Flyers, beating Columbus, 4-1. Martin Havlat scored twice for Ottawa, including the game winner in OT as the Senators edged Boston, 3-2. Martin Prusek, who Black, Red, and Gold has been quietly campaigning for to replace Patrick Lalime in net, had 22 saves for Ottawa.

Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis had two goals each, as Tampa Bay rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Montreal, 5-2. Though the Southeast Division takes a lot of shots from around the league (many deserved), Tampa Bay’s record would still be good for fifth best in the East if they didn’t lead their division. And as we’ve seen, the Southeast Division champ has as good a chance to make it to the Finals as any other (three of the last eight Eastern Conference champs have been teams that currently occupy the much maligned division).

Teams playing out the string last night included the Caps and Carolina, who tied 3-3. In Florida, Nik Hagman scored twice in Florida’s 5-1 win over Pittsburgh, who lost for a franchise record 13th game in a row. New Florida head coach John Torchetti won for the second time behind the bench in as many games since taking over from GM Rick Dudley.

UPDATE: Steve Ovadia takes a look at the NHL’s losers. Over at Hockeybird, the bird himself says it’s long past time to retire one Madison Square Garden tradition:

Dennis Potvin Doesn’t Suck

Will you please cut it out !!!!

Really, the people who chant this at MSG are not living in the real world. Dennis won FOUR CONSECUTIVE STANLEY CUPS and we are headed into our SEVENTH straight year out of the playoffs. Knock it off already ! If anybody sucks around here….it’s us. Well, and that dancing guy.

As an Islanders fan, I can’t wait until we win our next Cup, so we can start chanting “1994″ whenever the Rangers visit the suburbs.

When you get a chance, stop by Vancouver Canucks Op Ed for a roundup of the NHL week in quotes, a cool little feature. And finally, some people think that Tie Domi isn’t so tough anymore. I think they may be right.

 
February 13th, 2004

Goodenow Fires Back

Late yesterday afternoon, Bob Goodenow, head of the NHLPA, fired back at the report on NHL finances produced by former U.S. SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt. Here’s the crux of Goodenow’s argument:

“We understand the Levitt report took 12 months and thousands of hours to complete. Because we received the report from the League late this morning, it will take more than a couple of hours of review to fully comment. Selected media outlets received this report days before us, which speaks volumes about its intended audience. . .

The owners and their commissioner Gary Bettman have obviously found it necessary to retain a new spokesman/consultant to provide general conclusions about League finances while still not disclosing any individual team information or providing an opportunity to examine the actual records upon which the conclusions are allegedly based. . .

We have consistently stated that one critical issue of disagreement between the NHLPA and the League on finances is how to define the complete business of owning an NHL franchise, and how to address the significant inconsistencies contained in the NHL’s voluntary and unaudited URO reporting process. At the outset it is clear the Levitt report, commissioned by the League, is fundamentally flawed when the author “elects” to define hockey revenues on the same basis as used in the NBA and NFL for defining revenues in their salary cap systems.

This is essentially what Eric Fisher of the Washington Times reported earlier this week concerning the wide discrepancy between the league and the players union concerning league revenues. And Jim Kelley of ESPN.com essentially has it right when he points out that Levitt’s report was anything but an independent audit. The problem here is much like it was in Major League Baseball in that teams are private entities, and aren’t subject to the strict standards of a real public audit.

For years here in Washington, former Caps owner Abe Pollin would constantly carp that the team lost money, and produced figures to back up his claims. However, these figures inevitably excluded several sources of cash (like concessions and parking) that Pollin attributed to the Caps arena, the Capital Centre, thereby artificially decreasing the team’s total take.

Even conceding that, there are a number of things that aren’t in doubt: league television revenues from a national broadcast contract are going to be cut significantly this offseason; ticket prices are still too high, and with other revenue sources dropping in a league where the gate provides most of the take, they may have to go higher; at around 75 percent of league revenues, player salaries can’t go any higher.

I don’t want to excuse the owners for their own profligacy, but if the problems with the league were nothing more than a matter of negotiation, why would they be willing to endure a lockout of a season or longer? Clearly, a number of owners are losing so much money, that a lockout actually improves their economic position.

UPDATE: Tom Benjamin has looked at the numbers, and doesn’t like Levitt’s accounting methodolgy much at all.

 
February 12th, 2004

A Business Heading South?

The report on NHL finances produced by former U.S. SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt has been issued, and the news isn’t pretty. According to Levitt’s report, the league’s operating loss last season was $273 million, and he had a harsh assessment for the state of the NHL as a going concern:

“I have to say, I would not underwrite as a banker any of these ventures, nor would I invest a dollar of my own personal money in a business, to me, appears to be heading south,” Levitt said.

“Regardless of how they get there, they are on a treadmill to obscurity, that’s the way this league is going,” he added. “Something’s got to change…I can just look at what I see and can tell you from an investment point of view that it’s a dumb investment. They’ve got a serious problem.”

To read Levitt’s report yourself, click here.

Some other details from the official NHL release:

The 24 page study (plus 11 exhibits) reveals that 19 of the League’s 30 teams had operating losses in 2002-2003 averaging $18 million and that only 11 teams were profitable averaging $6.4 million in profits.

“On the basis of our examination, I believe that all elements of revenue and expenses reported by the teams, League and affiliated entities have been appropriately accounted for and reflect an accurate picture of the League’s condition,” [Levitt said.]

“I am satisfied,” said Levitt, “after more than 2000 hours of analysis, interviews, club visits and benchmarking verifications that the present business model of the National Hockey League is not economically viable.

Player costs of 75% of revenue clearly diminish any possibility of restoring a feasible business model.”

There has been no official response as of yet from union head Bob Goodenow and the NHLPA.

 
February 12th, 2004

Flame-Out South Of The Border

The U.S.under-23 Men’s Soccer team completely flamed out in Guadalajara yesterday, dropping a 4-0 decision to Mexico, and wass eliminated from qualifying for the 2006 Summer Olympic Games in Athens. The Mexican fans were as classy as always, breaking into a chant of “Osama, Osama,” in the first half. That gave way to cheers, though, as the Mexicans scored twice in the first half to put things away early.

For Americans wanting revenge, there’s always qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. Just you wait, we’ll be happy to host Mexico during qualifying in cities like Portland Oregon and Columbus, Ohio in the Soccer-friendly months of February and March.

UPDATE: On his way back home from a trans-Atlantic vacation, Josh Crockett had a chance to inhale two Soccer books that I heartily suggest you grab.

 
February 12th, 2004

Campbell Fires Back

Colin Campbell, NHL Director of Operations, had a few choice words yesterday for a number of goalies who complained about the proposed rule change that would prevent them from playing the puck behind the net:

“I might seem a little aggravated, but every time we do something to do the right thing for the game, we get knee-jerk reactions from some aspect of our business,” Campbell said. “We’re just trying to do the right thing.”

The proposed adjustments drew the ire of Vezina Trophy winner Brodeur and Toronto’s Kidd.

After practice Wednesday, Kidd held up 11-inch pads used in developmental leagues and was incredulous that the NHL wanted to make them even smaller.

Campbell was not impressed.

“Trevor Kidd can say that, but if I were him I’d work on my game,” Campbell said. “We work hard. We don’t just grab things from our back pocket and say, ‘Let’s try this.’ We do a lot of work on this.”

Ouch! Campbell shoots and scores, beating Kidd like a rented mule!

 
February 12th, 2004

NHL Roundup

In Detroit the Red Wings beat the Sharks, 4-2, but the big news is that only a few hours after Dominik Hasek walked out on the Wings, Curtis Joseph suffered a sprained right ankle that could have him sidelined indefinitely. Joseph was injured when Sharks forward Jonathan Cheechoo lost his edge, and slid into Joseph from behind, knocking him down. As many might recall, Joseph had bone chips removed from that ankle over the Summer — something that made it impossible for the Wings to trade him in the wake of Hasek’s surprise return.

For more insight into the mind of Hasek, read this piece by ESPN.com’s Jim Kelley (thanks to PJ at Sharkspage for the link). Kelley covered the Sabres for quite a while, and was on the beat for Hasek’s entire tenure in Buffalo — which included a physical confrontation when Kelley had the temerity to question the severity of a Hasek injury. It’s well worth your time, and goes a long way toward explaining Ken Holland’s statement yesterday regarding Haskek, especially after hearing Darren Pang talked about how Hasek’s announcement was received in the Wings locker room.

Despite all the controversy, the Red Wings have the best record in all of hockey. But being the best team in hockey means you get to increase ticket prices.

Down in Dallas, Bill Guerin scored a goal with only 6.2 seconds remaining in regulation to give Dallas a 4-4 tie with the visiting Islanders. New York contended that Guerin kicked the puck into the net, but replay officials disagreed. In New Jersey, the Rangers crept one point closer to the Islanders for eighth place in the East as they got a rare win over New Jersey in the Meadowlands, 3-1.

Los Angeles, gamely fighting to make the playoffs with a depleted roster, dropped an easy two points when they lost 3-2 to Columbus in OT. The same could be said of Nashville, who dropped a 5-2 decision to hapless Chicago. Another team fighting to stay in the playoff hunt, Phoenix, lost 5-3 to Anaheim. Dany Heatley may have returned to the lineup in Atlanta, but nothing seems to be working for the Thrashers, as they were whipped 5-1 by Edmonton.

And finally, in Vancouver, Jarome Iginla scored a third period goal to give the Flames a 3-2 win over the Canucks. Roman Turek, recently returned from an injury, had 13 of his 32 saves in the third period.

And in some off-ice news, Comcast, owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, has announced the intention to purchase Disney, owner of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. In case of a successful takeover, one would have to assume that Comcast would dump the Ducks ASAP. It would also mean that the Flyers, and not the Ducks, would become the official hockey team of ESPN, and makes one wonder what affect Comcast’s purchase might have on the eventual NHL television rights negotiations.

In other off-ice news, a Winnipeg lawyer took Don Cherry’ statement about who wears visors in the NHL to the test — and found out he was right. Hat tip to Jordon Cooper at The Hockey Pundits.

UPDATE: Neglected to note that the Pens and Leafs completed a deal, with Drake Berehowsky going back to Toronto in exchange for Ric Jackman. No word yet on how long Jackman cried after getting the news. Berehowsky, on the other hand, must be overjoyed at the prospect of rejoining his fellow Maple Thugs.

 
February 12th, 2004

Two Oilers Tickets, $50

Two Labatts, $10.

An Oilers pennant, $7.

Watching a bench clearing brawl in the midst of an Edmonton win, priceless:

Edmonton Oilers goalie Ty Conklin looked over and saw teammate Mike Bishai trading punches with Serge Aubin from the Atlanta Thrashers’ bench.

He wanted to watch, but with Thrashers netminder Pasi Nurminen ready to go, Conklin had his own business to take care of.

Conklin and Nurminen brawled at center ice to cap a wild brawl late in Edmonton’s 5-1 victory the Thrashers on Wednesday night.

The melee resulted in 12 fighting majors, 10 game misconducts and two minors for 164 penalty minutes.

“It looked like a pretty normal game going into the third period, and then a number of bizarre circumstances created what ended up being great entertainment,” Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said.

You can’t make up quotes like that. But we should give the last word to the Oilers’ Georges Laraque, who actually avoided getting involved in this melee:

“They were very frustrated and they just showed it on the ice,” said Laraque. “It’s nice to see that nobody shied away from the rough stuff and everybody on the ice did their thing.

“Everybody leaves the building happy.”

Indeed they did. Here endeth the lesson.

UPDATE: Oilers fan Colby Cosh loved what he saw.

 
February 12th, 2004

For The Love Of The Game

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With all the talk of the CBA and altering the NHL rulebook, it’s good to know some folks still love ice hockey in its purest form:

PLASTER ROCK, New Brunswick, Feb. 8

 
February 11th, 2004

Hasek “Done” In Detroit

That’s the word from Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who says Hasek won’t be coming back to the Motor City next year even if he fully recovers from a groin injury that ended his season early. However, just because Hasek won’t be in Detroit, doesn’t mean his career is over (barring any CBA trouble that is). No word if Hasek might be ready in time for this Summer’s World Cup.

 
February 11th, 2004

Clarret To Enter Draft

With a federal judge refusing to grant a stay of her ruling at the request of the NFL, former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarret has announced his intention to enter the 2004 NFL Draft, according to his lawyer.

More, later, as reaction trickles in from around the football world.

 
February 11th, 2004

CD REVIEW: THE STILLS

Flying under the radar of the under-the-radar bands like Interpol, BRMC and The Walkmen, The Stills are a relatively unknown Montreal quartet and have recently released their debut, Logic Will Break Your Heart. They are yet another entry in the indie rock renaissance, although more jangle pop than garage rawk. Much closer in sound to the shoegazing Doves than the raucous Hives.

The disc’s opening track, “Lola Stars and Stripes” is perfectly immediate and within the first 8 seconds it’s obvious these guys can make fine guitar rock. Most of the songs have a shining energy and some meander through subtle chord changes that make you wonder how they pluck those strings with only 5 fingers per hand.

Like their indie peers, it’s not hard to detect the strong influence of classic British alternative bands. “Changes Are No Good” switches between sounding like a New Order song from Brotherhood and Technique. “Still In Love Song” has a swirling bass line that recalls Blur’s “Girls and Boys” which almost makes it into a dance track.

Repeated listens reveal similarities to Interpol, minus the Ian Curtis sounding vocals and mostly cloudy forecast, that might not have been as obvious the first time around. The major difference being in how Interpol’s emotional weight takes their songs into a dark, smoky room with the curtains drawn, The Stills manage to keep things upbeat, even when they tackle heart-wrenching subject matter. Maybe it’s the snappy drums or the fact they will unleash just enough guitar fury whenever it seems bleakest that give off a more positive, sunny outlook.

Logic Will Break Your Heart doesn’t have any absolute freak-out songs, but it is sharply consistent and doesn’t try to do too much. If anything, The Stills are slightly one-dimensional at this point. They might round out and diversify their sound, but in the meantime The Stills are another fine addition to the ever-growing stable of unheralded indie rock acts.