Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (May. 4-10)

Something Smells: The NBA Playoffs Are Not Special

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It would be an understatement to say that I like sports: if I’m not watching a game on TV, I’m likely checking scores in other games or following breaking stories on the Internet. This spring, though, I have found myself watching little of the NBA playoffs. While I stay up to date on Twitter watching highlights and clips, I cannot bear to sit through an entire game. The game has become dominated by two super-teams, and the first three rounds serve only as formalities in reaching their inevitable faceoff. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are both 8-0 through the first two rounds and their average margin of victory is 13.06 points. It is rare that their opponent is competitive. While Cleveland and Golden State’s runs are impressive, they represent the worst of sports.

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A third-straight Cavaliers/Warriors Finals is the product of the larger issue in the NBA playoffs: a lack of parity. The problem lies with the lack of competitiveness in the playoffs now. Only one lower seed has been able to beat a higher seed in the NBA playoffs thus far, when the Utah Jazz took down the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games. The series was unquestionably the best of the NBA playoffs in the first round. The largest margin of victory in any game was eight points, and every game was tight. Though, the victor of that series had little to celebrate: Utah would go on to play the Warriors in the second round, and be bumped to the curb in four games and forgotten.

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Where is the parity? The NBA has a flawed model allowing teams to spend into the luxury tax. The luxury tax is in place to attempt to increase parity by taxing teams who spend over the salary cap. This cap is a “soft cap”, allowing teams to go over it by paying a penalty. The absence of a “hard cap”, however, has resulted in unprecedented disparity. Teams are able to assemble rosters of superstars that can only be beaten by one team – coincidentally, another super-team. The Golden State Warriors have benefited from Stephen Curry’s inexpensive contract, but have spent well past the salary cap in acquiring the likes of Kevin Durant. The Cavaliers, with Lebron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, have also employed this strategy.

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The era of Cleveland/Golden State finals match-ups has shown the need for a hard salary cap to ensure parity in the league. A hard cap would keep super-teams from assembling and make the early rounds of the playoffs competitive. Consider the National Hockey League for proof of a successful hard cap. While the NHL had endured decades of super-teams, the 2005-06 season brought a hard cap, and with it, newfound parity.

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The hard constant dogfight to stay at the top. NHL teams are constantly forced to re-organize, bring in short-term players, and be loose with their players in order to create their best product. Consider the Chicago Blackhawks. Their general manager, Stan Bowman, has been remodeling the team since their Stanley Cup in 2010. The Hawks have had to trade the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Andrew Ladd, and Nick Leddy to stay within the salary cap. These trades have seen elite players improving their new teams, furthering parity throughout the league. But, these moves have also kept the Blackhawks competitive for nearly a decade.

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Conversely, consider the Golden State Warriors. They have traded away worse players for upgrades. This summer the Warriors managed to acquire Zaza Pachulia for Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, and then traded Festus Ezeli. It does not seem to make sense to trade away all these role players, but of course they used this freed up money to acquire Kevin Durant. Instead of having to downgrade, the Warriors in their third year at the top of the NBA got a serious upgrade easily. The Hawks finally won a title after 49 years and instantly had to trim the fat. If the NBA wants to have competitive playoffs with consistent parity, there needs to be a shift in how money is spent on players, by spreading the talent of the league.

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The NBA is a wealthier enterprise than the NHL, and with their latest TV deal of $24 billion it is very difficult to argue that owners are not making money. With this mind, there is lots of money in place that could make the league much more competitive. With a proper salary cap in place, it is reasonable to believe that the NBA playoffs could truly be unpredictable. When was the last time the NBA had a Cinderella win the NBA Championship? 1995 is the answer. The Houston Rockets came in as a sixth-seed, having only won 47 games in the regular season. Led by Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets were able to upset three 60-win teams, and then take down the Orlando Magic and Shaquille O’Neal in the NBA Finals. This was an incredible run, and can be best defined as unpredictable, something like this would never happen in the NBA today.

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The consistent results, and predictable outcomes are getting old. Charles Barkley from the NBA on TNT, provided a quality soundbite this past Monday, when he said he would rather watch the NHL playoffs than the NBA playoffs. Barkley went onto talk of how the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets match-up hardly mattered, as whoever would win that would simply be served to the Golden State Warriors on a platter. The Spurs and Rockets could play seven games against one another, and could have the best series of the playoffs. Yet, like the Utah Jazz in the second round, it will all be squandered by a super-team from Golden State.

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It is difficult to argue that super-teams are good for basketball, even from a financial standpoint. Super teams could bring a massive drop in the NBA’s viewership. This past season national viewership dipped by a modest 6%. However, the NBA took a big hit in local ratings. As of the first week of February, NBA regional sport networks reported they were down 15% in viewership. The ratings were not just dropping in small markets either, with Cleveland seeing a 28% drop-off in viewership compared to 2015-16 and seeing a 35% drop-off in viewership. Chicago and Cleveland are considered two of the NBA’s hottest markets, yet even they are seeing a large drop.

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It is time for change in the NBA. The Canadian markets are on fire right now, as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ local viewership rose by 27%, and Edmonton Oiler broadcasts were up an astounding 40%. CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada block at 7pm EST saw a 9% increase in viewership, while the 10pm EST block saw a 6% increase. The NBA lacks this growth, because they are bound to have the same narrative of Cavaliers and Warriors for three years in a row. While their ratings will not likely take a hit in the Finals, they will experience pain on the way there. No one will want to see the 28 other teams. All they will want to see is the two super teams play each other. Make every game matter again NBA.

 

Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! I believe that with my schedule this summer I will subtract the tidbits for the summer, as I simply do not have the time to complete them and be satisfied with them. I will continue to attempt to punch out an article each week, however, and hope you stay along for the ride! Thank you for your support as always!

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Apr. 27-May. 3)

Five Things: Major League Baseball’s Top Five Headlines in April

  1. The Nats’ Hot Bats

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No team in the MLB is hitting better than the Washington Nationals. Led by Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper, the Nationals boast a team average of .289, a significant lead over the next-closest team, the Houston Astros, at .276. Their bats are accompanied by an ability to drive the ball. The Nationals have hit 43 home runs this season, trailing only, the New York Yankees at 44 and the Milwaukee Brewers at 47. This consistent hitting, combined with their power, has seen them score the most runs in the league to date. Their power was on display on Sunday, when they beat the New York Mets 23-5. Washington’s formula is sustainable, as they are able to both to go out of the park and play excellent small ball. They lead the Majors in doubles, sit second in walks and have the best on-base percentage in the MLB at .366. The Nationals appear to be running away with the NL East despite having some of the worst pitching in the league, and, with a fairly loaded rotation it is fair to assume the best of their pitching is yet to come. Could this finally be the year that the Nationals break through and make the World Series?

  1. Not Your Everyday Korean League Player

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Despite leaving the MLB at the end of the 2013 season, Eric Thames was determined to find a way back to high-level professional baseball. Having been buried in Triple-A baseball for a year, Thames was willing to try anything to get his career back on track. While playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, Thames was scouted by the NC Dinos of the Korean League and signed to a one-year deal for $800,000 USD. From there he would go onto be a two-time all-star, be the first player in Korean League history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season, and win the 2015 MVP. His success caught the eyes of the Milwaukee Brewers, who signed Thames to a three-year, $16 million contract in late-November. Thames has made an immediate impact, recording 11 home runs (tied for 2nd in the Majors), 20 RBIs, a .326 batting average and a .761 slugging percentage (4th in the Majors). Catching many experts by surprise, Thames has proven that anyone can make it. Using his powerful bat and the momentum of a second chance Thames has captured baseball’s attention and imagination. However, the ride seems a little simpler to Thames. When asked why he chose Milwaukee to be his choice of destination Thames summed it up simply, “they have great beer”. The man who loves a good beer, is just having fun playing baseball. With Thames back in his native United States of America, I doubt the MLB will let him leave home anytime soon again.

  1. Blue Jays Lost in the Wind

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The Toronto Blue Jays had an ugly April. Despite entering the season with high expectations, the Jays struggled out of the gate. The team went 8-17 on the month, leaving many fans and news stations calling for accountability. However, the Blue Jays have ramped it up of late. The Jays have shown a pulse in their last eleven games, going 5-6 and winning three in a row at one point. They now find themselves trailing the Chicago White Sox by six and a half games for the final wild card spot. Consequently, the Jays will need to have good months from here on out, Management has not been safe from outside criticism. Manager John Gibbons voiced his opinion on the Fan 590 on Monday, calling in as “John from the Bronx” to criticize host Mike Wilner, after he had questioned Gibbons’ decision to start Luke Maile over veteran Russell Martin. Gibbons spoke highly of Marco Estrada and Maile, and had some fun with Wilner, who seemed unaware of the caller’s identity at the beginning of the call. As the Jays have struggled, some players have answered the call for help. Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales and Kevin Pillar carried the load offensively for the Jays, with Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson both sidelined from ailments. The Jays will need more from the likes of Jose Bautista, Devon Travis, and Steve Pearce if they wish to push for a playoff position. With the bats starting to show more life, and a steady starting rotation, the Jays can get back on track with relative ease.

  1. 34: The New 25

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34-year old Ervin Santana was the best pitcher in baseball during April, going 5-0 and sporting an earned runs average of 0.66. In 41 innings, Santana has allowed just three earned runs and, 16 hits, which leaves him with an equally impressive walks and hits per inning pitched (W.H.I.P.) of 0.71. The right-hander is having arguably his best season since 2008, and has carried the Minnesota Twins to second place in the Central division. Those batting against Santana are hitting .120, as the Dominican relies on his fastball for just over 50% of his pitches. Santana can effectively use his slider and his changeup to strikeout batters, though, and can mix in a two-seam fastball when needed. Santana’s turnaround is a nice story, having been suspended for 80 games back in 2015, for drug use. While it will be near-impossible to keep up this torrid pace, do not be surprised if Santana finds himself in the AL Cy Young race well into September. Maybe he could even help the Twins get back to the post-season for the first time since 2010.

  1. The Judge of New York’s Supreme Court

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Given his 6’7’’, 282-pound frame, and unique last name, one would expect Aaron Judge to be a WWE Superstar, rather a professional baseball player. Instead, he finds himself dominating for the New York Yankees, leading the MLB with 13 home runs and having tallied 27 RBIs on top of that. The behemoth has even consistently got on base for the New York Yankees, as he is batting .330 with a .433 on-base percentage to compliment his impressive batting average. Judge is only a rookie, too, having only played 27 games last season for the Yankees. Judge is just the third Yankee since 1913 to hit at least 12 home runs in the first 25 games of a season, joining the likes of Babe Ruth (1921) and Alex Rodriguez (2007). Elite company for the 25-year old, who has helped bring the Yankees back into contention for the AL East’s crown this season. Judge clearly practices just as hard as he plays, as he sent a rocket off the scoreboard, which then went down to terrace and destroyed a television. My sources tell me that the television is on its way to Cooperstown. The jury is in, and Judge is slamming everyone with home runs.

 

Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! As I have been adjusting to being back home in Ottawa and have been quite busy! I hope you enjoyed this week’s piece, though, and hope you stick along for the ride in the summer! Enjoy the playoffs! And all should return to normal this coming week, my Facebook and Twitter will give updates if that changes! Thank you for your support as always!

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Apr. 12-26)

The Road to Redemption

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Every spring Canadians become captivated by hockey and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Players will sacrifice it all to help their teams inch closer to a Cup win. Consider Gregory Campbell who played through a broken leg in 2013 with the Boston Bruins. However, some players have their playoff dreams ripped away from them be it due to injury or even off-ice issues. Zack Kassian became an overnight sensation, after scoring two crucial game-winning goals for the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. On the other side of Canada, Clarke MacArthur launched Ottawa into a frenzy when he scored the overtime-winner in Game 6 of the Senators’ first round series to send the Sens to round two. Both players endured a lot of pain, stress, and doubt; but, they are finally breaking through.

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On October 4, 2015, Zack Kassian found himself in troubled waters. The Windsor native had not played a single game for the Montreal Canadiens, when he was involved in a car accident that day, suffering a broken nose and fractured left foot. Kassian was found to be under the influence of alcohol, at the time of the accident, though he was not the driver. However, this revelation saw him placed into the NHL’s substance abuse program. The once highly-touted prospect had hit rock-bottom. Traded three times and considered a bust, Kassian needed help and was forced to get it. After finishing his stint in the NHL’s substance abuse program Kassian was told not to report to the St. John Ice Caps (the Canadiens’ affiliate) and was traded to the Edmonton Oilers.

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As if it was not hard enough for Kassian to join the fourth team of his NHL career at the age of 24, Kassian was joining a team that hated his guts. During a pre-season game in 2013 Kassian blatantly high-sticked then-Oiler Sam Gagner in the face, resulting in Gagner losing four teeth and needing a plate and six screws to repair his mouth. To make his own matters worse, when Gagner returned in a game against Vancouver later that season, Kassian decided to taunt him for having to wear a face-shield as result of the injury. Kassian became public enemy number one in Edmonton. Yet, Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli saw untapped potential and a low-risk opportunity in Kassian, and gave him a final chance to prove himself. It was not an easy road for Kassian; but, this was the best offer he was going to receive, and he wanted to make the best of the opportunity.

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After a short stint with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, Kassian got the call from Edmonton to return to the NHL, and made his debut with the Oilers on January 14, 2016. Just under a week later, he scored his first NHL goal in over 10 months. Since then, Kassian has found a consistent role in the Oilers’ lineup. The 26-year old played a career-high 79 games this season and recorded 24 points, while providing valuable minutes on the team’s penalty kill. Though, nothing can be as sweet as Kassian’s playoff production, which has truly been a coming out party for him on a national stage. The gritty Kassian cashed in on a breakaway opportunity in Game 2 shorthanded and sent Edmonton into pandemonium. The Oilers would go onto win the game, and even up the series, however, Kassian’s heroics were not done there. In Game 3, a David Schlemko was gifted to Kassian who deposited the game’s only goal into the Sharks net, winning the game for Edmonton in doing so. This lea TSN’s Ryan Rishaug and Darren Dreger to question whether Kassian is on his way to becoming a playoff-star, when commenting on his breakout performance. Whether he is on his way to becoming a playoff star or not, one thing is for sure, Kassian is in a much better place than he was a year and a half ago, and is a better man for it.

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On the other side of Canada, a different story has been unfolding over the past two years. On February 16, 2015, in a game between the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes, Clarke MacArthur found his team falling victim to an odd-man rush. Seeing this, MacArthur sped up to pick up his man going to the net. In doing so, though, MacArthur fell and goaltender Robin Lehner gave him an inadvertent blocker to the head. This was MacArthur’s first concussion, and, not thinking much of it, he made a goal to return to the Senators lineup later that season. MacArthur was a part of the Senators’ “Hamburglar” run, even stringing together a seven-game point streak to end the regular season. However, MacArthur’s return may have cost him. The Senators had high aspirations for MacArthur coming into the 2015-16 season, but only four games in, he suffered another concussion. General Manager Bryan Murray announced a week later that MacArthur would not be returning in the near future.

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In late March of 2016, MacArthur finally passed baseline tests to return. But, with the team far from playoff contention, the Senators shut him down for the season. With that in mind, fans were excited to see MacArthur skating with the Senators in September, and were ambitious and anxious to see the top-six forward back on the ice. On September 25, disaster struck. In a team scrimmage newly-acquired Senator Patrick Sieloff gave MacArthur a hard body check along the boards, and MacArthur instantly collapsed. Furious with the situation teammates Bobby Ryan and Chris Neil began to fight Sieloff. MacArthur was aided off the ice by teammates, and a happy day turned somber in the blink of an eye.

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With another setback MacArthur was told to take his time, and to consult concussion doctors about his future. Amazingly enough, by late October, MacArthur was back around the rink. Senators’ Head Coach Guy Boucher informed the media that MacArthur would be travelling with the team, as he thought it would be good for him to be around his teammates. In early December, fans received promising news when MacArthur indicated he intended to join the Senators sometime in January. This news came as a surprise to many, as MacArthur had now suffered three concussions in less than two years. Training every day, and practising with his teammates in a non-contact jersey, MacArthur would stay on the ice after his teammates left, working as hard as he could to get back. On January 20, 2017, the final nail in the coffin appeared to have been put in. Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion announced that doctors had advised the team to shut MacArthur down for the year, and that they intended to do so. Dorion also refused to comment on MacArthur’s future. It seemed to be the end to an incredible comeback, and MacArthur was crushed. Yet, he refused to give up.

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In late-March, the unexpected happened. MacArthur announced that he was not shut down and still intended to play. Boucher and Dorion, not in complete agreement with the comments, gave rather cautious responses to this. Then, on April 4th, Dorion shocked the hockey world by announcing that MacArthur would be in the lineup that evening for the Senators game against the Detroit Red Wings. The hockey community instantly became embroiled in a heated discussion, on whether MacArthur should be playing or not. However, when he hit the ice for his first professional game in nearly two years the building roared in excitement for #16. At the end of the night, the Senators and MacArthur had won, proving he could still play. He was noticeably emotional during his post-game interview, but set his eyes towards the playoffs, focused and determined to be ready if he got the call. And, he got the call. As described by Boucher, “all of Ottawa raised its arms when MacArthur scored in Game 2”. Then all of Ottawa celebrated again when MacArthur scored the series-winning goal in Game 6 to defeat the Boston Bruins.

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Two very different journeys by two men in different points of their careers. One unproven and undesired, and one injured and distraught. However, they both persevered and overcame their battles. Canada tunes into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and cheer for these men, commending them for their acts of courage and strength. Both Kassian and MacArthur serve as reminders to never ever give up on your dreams. No matter who is against you, you can always achieve those dreams if you work hard enough to get there. Congratulations Zack and Clarke, your dreams have come true, and it is wonderful to have you guys back on the ice.

 

Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! As I was in exam period and have been quite busy! I hope you enjoyed this week’s piece, though, and hope you stick along for the ride in the summer! Enjoy the playoffs! And all should return to normal this coming week, my Facebook and Twitter will give updates if that changes! Thank you for your support as always!

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Apr. 6-11)

Rediscovering Love for the Ottawa Senators: A Fan’s Journey from 2013-2017

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Coming into this season the Ottawa Senators had made the playoffs one time in their past three seasons. Dating back to the 2007-08 season the Senators had won one playoff series. They were a team who never seemed amongst the league’s best: even their unprecedented Hamburglar run in 2014-15 ended after six playoff games. Inconsistency, poor structure, and a lack of talent contributed to the Senators’ mediocrity. Through and through I followed the team, but there has been something missing in these past years. My life-long fandom of the Sens changed when this organization betrayed my trust and made me have mixed feelings about it on July 5th of 2013.

 

I had heard speculation that Daniel Alfredsson was looking at all offers, but I never believed he would leave the Senators. Then, around noon, news broke that Alfredsson would be leaving Senators to sign with the Detroit Red Wings. Originally I thought Alfredsson just wanted a Stanley Cup, but quickly I found out there was more to that.

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Reports had originally surfaced that Alfredsson was handed a blank check. Then, this tweet appeared.  Alfredsson had his previous contract front-loaded, and had a salary of $1M in the 2012-13 season. This was done with the intention of Alfredsson not playing in 2012-13, as both the Senators and Alfie believed he would retire. However, that was not the case, and this side deal to keep the Senators’ cap down came under scrutiny. Having done the Senators a favour Alfredsson expected to be rewarded with his desired salary of $5.5M. Instead, he was asked to take another hometown discount. The Senators never believed he would leave, but the contract debacle forced Alfredsson out of Ottawa. I did not feel betrayed by Alfredsson, but by management, and more importantly ownership. Eugene Melnyk failed to reward Alfie for seventeen years of elite play and commitment to the city. That day marked the end of a chapter in Ottawa.

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The Senators attempted to fill Alfredsson’s void by acquiring a new franchise winger. Bobby Ryan, was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks for Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first round-pick (Nick Ritchie). Originally, the move was met with excitement, and was hoped to keep the fan-base happy despite losing Alfie. However, it has not worked out as hoped. Ryan was originally thought to be a perfect pairing with Jason Spezza, but the two did not gel together. Since then, Ryan has been under scrutiny for his lack of production. Up until this season, Ryan had performed respectably, recording multiple 50 point seasons and a couple of 20 goal years for Ottawa. However, he did not turn into the player they hoped for. The Ryan trade was rushed by Ottawa, as the Sens gave up a lot for what was seen to be a franchise winger. Now Sens fans remain bitter about the trade and wish it never happened.

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Shortly after Ryan arrived, Jason Spezza was selected as captain of the Ottawa Senators when Alfredsson left town and became the scapegoat for everything. Spezza tried his best to help guide a team with a lack of talent, but without talent to compliment him other than Erik Karlsson it was futile. Despite putting up 66 points in 75 games, Spezza struggled in the defensive zone, and blame was directed his way. Being the successor to Alfredsson was no easy task and it wore on Spezza, and after his first season as Senators’ captain he requested a trade. Spezza’s era as captain was short, sad and forgettable; though, it did mark a signal of change.

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Spezza departure left the captaincy open, and the Ottawa Senators quickly announced that Erik Karlsson would take over. With this, the youth movement of the Sens took charge. Karlsson, aided by Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, and Mike Hoffman, brought exciting play to a team desperate for energy. But, management managed to kill some of that joy. After rallying from a three-goal deficit to win in overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks, the Senators fired Head Coach Paul MacLean. The firing seemed odd to many, given that MacLean had been a Jack Adams Trophy winner and that the Sens core was still young and developing. Reports began to surface that the move was not done by General Manager Bryan Murray, but by owner Eugene Melnyk. Once again, Melnyk had his hand in hockey decisions. Because, MacLean’s views did not align with Melnyk’s a great coach was fired.

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MacLean was succeed by a less than dazzling one. Dave Cameron got Ottawa to the playoffs on the back of Andrew Hammond, but his systems were not solid and he was doomed to fail. His eye for talent was lacking, as Hoffman spent the end of 2015-16 in the bottom six despite being the team’s leading goal scorer, while players like Alex Chiasson and Jared Cowen wandered the ice. The Sens had little direction with Cameron. It seemed as though the Senators were just riding the roller-coaster of mediocrity. Then, a miracle happened.

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Dion Phaneuf trade rumours were circulating. It was thought by many he would be on his way to Detroit, but then something crazy happened. The Phaneuf to Ottawa trade news broke. A smile and sense of excitement overcame me, I was elated. The Senators had rid themselves of underperforming players and received a leader, who other than a large contract was a perfect fit in the Senators top 4. This day I finally had some faith in management and ownership, as they made an excellent move. Which preceded more moves in the off-season.

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After missing the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Dave Cameron was fired, Pierre Dorion took over as GM of the Sens, and Eugene Melnyk challenged his players. It was time for change in the Senators organization, and change has followed. A new head coach brought structure and a new eye for talent to a team in dire need of it; a new general manager was brought in who was not afraid to make bold moves. Change has brought the Senators back to the playoffs, and sees them with home-ice advantage for the first time since 2007. This is also the first time since 2007 that I can confidently say this is a good hockey team. But most importantly, for the first time since Alfie left, I truly love this team. A season that has seen me cry, cheer, and sit on the edge of my seat is going to be capped off with a Senators playoff run, one that I believe will go more than one round. This season, I spent nights up writing, studying, and contemplating the Senators and their tactics, and I love it all. I am enthralled by this team, and am beyond excited for Wednesday’s clash with the Boston Bruins. With all that said, if you, like me felt betrayed when Alfie was cast away from the organization, please give this team a chance; I promise, they will not disappoint you. The Ottawa Senators are back, and they have some good times ahead.

 

Note to my readers: Sorry I could not provide you with the tidbits this week! Same will be the case of next week, as I am in exam period and am quite busy! I hope you enjoyed this week’s piece, though, and hope you stick along for the ride in the summer! Enjoy the playoffs!

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

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Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Mar. 30-Apr.5)

Stubborn and Naïve: The Growing Rift Created between the NHL and its Players & Fans

Photography by Kristian Bogner Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved.

On February 28th, 2010, I found myself alone at home. My father was on the outskirts of Ottawa, helping run his motorsport club’s ice race, and my mother was at work at the hospital. I was alone watching the Canada/U.S. Gold Medal hockey game of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The game was a back and forth battle, pitting two bitter rivals against each other in a hostile environment. Late in the third period, the U.S. tied the game with 25 seconds left on a goal by Zach Parise. Watching Canada’s lead slip away was devastating, as the game moved on to an overtime period. The overtime had a feverish pace about it: chances were abundant on both sides and the crowd gasped and roared, depending on who had the puck. About seven minutes in, Sidney Crosby carried the puck through the neutral zone, only to lose it upon entering the American end. Jarome Iginla picked it up for Canada and fed Crosby, who, from an improbable angle scored, the most iconic goal of the 21st century. Canada stood up and cheered, as their sons had won Gold on home soil.

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There are children in Canada, and around the world, who over the next decade, will not get to experience this feeling as their NHL heroes will not likely be headed to the Olympics. On Monday, the NHL officially announced that they were not sending their players to the 2018 Winter Olympics. The decision is especially controversial considering the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) had made accommodations for insurance and transportation issues the NHL had. The NHL and its owners, though, fear of injuries, like that of John Tavares at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which cost the New York Islanders’ captain the rest of his season.

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This is a selfish move by the NHL. The league, and its owners are now going to have a problem with rogue players, irritated fans, and the loss of international growth. The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) released a statement shortly after the league released their decision, saying that they were “extraordinarily disappointed” and that they “adamantly disagree with the NHL’s short-sighted decision.” The NHLPA echoed the potential growth for the game and the NHL’s opportunity to showcase their talent in Asia, an untapped market. With the following two winter Olympics taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea and Beijing, China, it serves as an excellent opportunity for hockey to grow internationally. Yet, the NHL’s stubbornness and inability to cooperate hinders such an opportunity. Some NHL players plan to go, regardless of what the league mandates. One of the biggest stars in hockey, Alexander Ovechkin, has stuck to his guns and maintained his positon that he would play in the 2018 Winter Olympics. This puts the NHL in a tough spot: should they suspend Ovechkin? If so, for how long? The debate and decision has become a media circus, and it will likely get even bigger when someone, like Ovechkin, receives undeserved backlash.

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The fans will not side with the owners and the NHL. They will always back the players who entertain them. In refusing to play in PyeongChang, the league is failing to gain access to a new group of fans in Asia. Recently, the Kontinental Hockey League expanded into China, and the Kunlun Red Star began playing in Beijing. With the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, only six years away, China wants hockey to grow, and the KHL offered them a great platform to do so. What they did not expect was the absence of the NHL. The league has failed to realize that China is the biggest untapped market in the world. Their opportunity begs comparison to the NBA, and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Throughout the 2000s, the NBA had grown its market in China with Yao Ming’s success; but, then after the Beijing Games, China found an honourary son in Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba is a legend in China, and the crowds went crazy for him when the NBA toured through China in the pre-season of 2013. This all stemmed from his appearance at the 2008 Olympics, where he and the entire American team put on a show.

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Kobe was not the only reason the NBA and basketball has become so popular in China, though. The NBA put offices in Shanghai and Beijing and, held grassroots tours throughout the country. For their attempts, the league received rave reviews. Forbes reporter Robert Tuchman compared the NBA’s success in exporting their product to China to the “same prestigious echelon” as that of Apple and Disney. The numbers match this lofty claim: in 2012, it was reported NBA China’s revenue was at $150 million USD. That number approached $200 million USD in 2014, and it continues to grow.

Why, then, would the NHL skip the Olympics? It is difficult to be global, and they do not have a Yao Ming, but the NHL has the Winter Olympics. They have back to back Winter Olympics in Asian countries, and will have all of the world’s attention. Yet, they hide their product and restrict it. The exposure and potential revenue outweighs the few consequences that would come from letting the players go to the Winter Olympics.

Gary Bettman thinks he has discovered the solution to ownership’s concerns. He believes that the IOC should switch hockey to the Summer Olympics. This solution is insulting. Hockey is not meant for the summer, and that’s the belief of the Great One. In 2008, Wayne Gretzky stated kids should have an “off-season”, a three-four month window where they play other sports. This lesson comes from Walter Gretzky, who would not let Wayne touch ice in the summer, and instead had him play baseball, lacrosse and other sports. Putting hockey in the Summer Olympics raises the same problem as the World Cup: injuries because players are not in peak shape, taking away their vacation, and a poor setting. Hockey is not played on the beach; it is played in the snow. Putting Olympic hockey in the summer would be a terrible decision, and would satisfy no one other than the NHL.

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The game’s best came out and vocalized their opinion on the NHL’s decision on Monday. Erik Karlsson called the NHL’s decision “crap”, adding that “whoever made that decision has no idea what they are doing.”  The NHL’s decision to not participate is unique, as the NHL is the only league in the world that is not allowing their players to go. The KHL, SHL, AHL and many more have made it clear they will still be sending their players to the Olympics. These leagues, especially the KHL will have a huge opportunity for growth, as they have already made headway into China with Kunlun Red Star, and will likely look to grow into countries like South Korea and Japan. This is a missed opportunity for the NHL. China’s president Xi Jinping made a commitment to get 300 million people “on the ice”. With the 2022 Winter Olympics around the corner, this would be an opportune time to grow the sport. Yet, the NHL continues to restrict their global audience and have squandered this opportunity.

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The 2010 Winter Olympics averaged 24.4 million viewers in prime-time, and the 2014 Winter Olympics saw peak viewership during the Canada/U.S. hockey semi-final. NBC reported that 61.8 million unique viewers tuned into the 2014 Winter Olympics. There would be a similar audience for NBC in 2018 and 2022, perhaps even bigger. For once, there would be a large audience in Asia. The potential exposure is astronomical, but, once again, it seems like it will not be a reality. This is truly a shame, and once again is a one-sided decision. The fans, players, IIHF and the IOC want the NHL players to be in PyeongChang and Beijing. The only opposition is the NHL and its owners. This opposition will likely rip away the potential of another moment like Crosby’s 2010 game-winner, and there will be children who will never get to share the joy I felt back in February of 2010.

 

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • Brad Marchand was allegedly considered a changed player by much of the hockey community. I am not buying that at all. Marchand’s statistics and offensive abilities have improved significantly, but he is still an ass, for lack of a better word. Marchand has attempted slew foots and dangerous plays on unsuspecting opponents this season and in the past. In an important game for the Boston Bruins on Tuesday evening, he chose to spear Jake Dotchin of the Tampa Bay Lightning for no particular reason. Dotchin was okay, but Marchand got a five-minute major and a game misconduct, and is scheduled to have a hearing with NHL officials. This means Marchand could miss one of two or both of the Bruins’ remaining regular season games, which will impact their matchup in the post-season dramatically.
  • The New York Islanders have tied together an impressive second half of the season to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. However, those hopes received a crushing blow last Friday when Islanders’ captain John Tavares went down awkwardly and immediately was favouring his leg. It sucks to see players get injured, especially the stars of the game. One can only hope this is not one of the last memories Islanders fans will have of Tavares, as he enters the last year of his contract next season and the pressure mounts on management to sign him or trade him. The Brooklyn era of the Islanders will be defined by Tavares and management’s decision.

Stars of the Week

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  • The Ottawa Senators looked to have crisis on their hands until two surprises happened. On Monday evening at 5pm, unannounced, Erik Karlsson showed up at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit to tell the Senators he would play. Karlsson’s appearance grabbed the Senators a crucial point and he looked fabulous while being on one good leg. On Tuesday Karlsson played once again, but the Senators got another late acquisition, which was Clarke MacArthur. After 538 days MacArthur finally played in an NHL game again, and it was incredible. On his first shift Mac looked comfortable and in control, laying a hit on Red Wings’ Danny Dekeyser and getting into the corners right away. He finished with 9:44 of ice time, and helped the Senators get two massive points with a 2-0 win. After the game he received the third star, a standing ovation and had an emotional interview. As a Sens fan and personally a huge fan of Mac it was a tear-jerker to see him get emotional last night, the Sens are happy to have him back.
  • The Washington Capitals are hitting their stride at the right time, as the league leading Caps are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Leading the way has been Nicklas Backstrom who has 21 points in 17 games since March 1st. Backstrom has a team-high 85 points, and has shown he is more than just Alexander Ovechkin’s sidekick. Backstrom leads the NHL with 35 powerplay points and is a huge reason why the Capitals have a top tier powerplay and offense. Backstrom will need to carry this success into the playoffs, if he and the Capitals wish to finally get over the second round hump.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Toronto Raptors

  • The Toronto Raptors have won eight of their last ten and have looked pretty consistent in doing so. The Raptors have finally passed the Washington Wizards, but will need to continue to tally wins if they look to keep third place in the Eastern Conference. If the Raptors can continue to get secondary scoring down the stretch they should be able to put a nice playoff run together. Especially with the return of all-star guard Kyle Lowry on Wednesday night.
  • Head Coach Dwane Casey will be tasked with finding minutes for young guard Delon Wright as Kyle Lowry comes back. Wright has filled in excellently by coming off the bench and providing anywhere from 15-25 minutes a night for the Raptors. He has served as a floor general who also excels defensively. It would be an oversight for Casey not to use Wright in the playoffs when defense and having a deep bench can be so crucial. With Lowry likely to not have his legs right away, having Wright in the lineup will be key for the Raptors’ post-season success.

 

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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  1. Warriors (64-14)
  • That is twelve wins in a row for the Golden State Warriors and their foot is still on the gas. The Warriors have an easy schedule for their four remaining regular season games and will most likely get the Portland Trail Blazers or Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. Regardless of who it is, they will likely serve as a victim to the Warriors who look scary good. Remember, the Warriors still do not have Kevin Durant back, if Durant’s teammates are playing this well when he comes back then the sky is the limit for the Warriors.
  1. Spurs (60-17)
  • The San Antonio Spurs have bounced back and rattled off three straight wins. All of these wins came against Western Conference playoff teams, and one saw them beat their likely first round opponents, the Memphis Grizzlies. This series would be a grind for the Spurs, as Memphis similarly to San Antonio plays hard defense, but it would certainly get them accustom to the playoff atmosphere. Regardless the Spurs will take on all comers, and will be tough to beat with Kawhi Leonard leading the way and Gregg Popovich running operations on the bench.
  1. Celtics (50-27)
  • The Boston Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday in a potential conference decider. Both teams sit atop the Eastern Conference at 50-27, and with the playoffs looming this will be their final matchup before a potential Eastern Conference Finals meeting. The Celtics expect Avery Bradley to play on Wednesday despite his illness, and have said Jae Crowder will be a game-time decision after the MRI on his elbow came back negative. The Celtics understand the importance of home court advantage and will look to lock that up until the NBA Finals, with a win on Wednesday.
  1. Cavaliers (50-27)
  • Cleveland has won their last three games, because of their scoring attack. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith have all scored 10 points or more in all three of these games. This balanced scoring attack helps spread the floor, and lead the Cavaliers, further enabling LeBron to setup his teammates and dominate defenders. The Cavaliers are going to beat teams by making it a track meet, so getting their offense cooking before the playoffs has been crucial, and could carry them to a win over the Celtics on Wednesday.
  1. Rockets (52-25)
  • The Houston Rockets did not have a good week, but with Ryan Anderson coming back they will get some much needed help. Anderson missed over a week with a sprained ankle, and his contributions are needed that much more after Sam Dekker suffered a broken hand. Dekker’s injury will only see him miss three-four weeks of action, which can be considered a blessing for the Rockets who feared he would miss much more time. This team still does have MVP candidate James Harden to carry them, until they are fully healthy, so they should be okay in a first round matchup, minus Dekker and having a less than 100% Ryan Anderson.

 

NCAA Bracket Results

I said I would give shoutouts to everyone who beat my official bracket, so with that in mind….

Shoutout to the following people or accounts (if I couldn’t figure out who you were!):

Special shoutout to: Chase Casey on being the official winner of the JSST Bracket!

Now here is everyone else who made me cry at night!

  • Matthew Saunders
  • Justin Young
  • Hannah Kocsis
  • Brayden Cavanagh
  • Janson Bautista
  • Fraser Curry
  • Kameron Beatty
  • Tristan DM
  • Kyle Poole
  • Ethan Brown
  • Shawn Corcoran
  • Espn82844012 (Erkcity)
  • Ryan Bili
  • Steve Rozanec
  • Espn64182605
  • Kelsey Swindall
  • Lucas Vani
  • Parker Wilson

Thank you to everyone who participated and congratulations to everyone who beat me! It was a pleasure and I hope you will re-enter next March!

 

What to watch this week?

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  • Wednesday: Blue Jays vs Orioles 7:05pm ET, Cavaliers vs Celtics 8:00pm ET, Thunder vs Grizzlies 8:00pm ET, Rangers vs Capitals 8:00pm ET
  • Thursday: Senators vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Lightning vs Leafs 7:30pm ET, Celtics vs Hawks 8:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Ducks 10:00pm ET, Oilers vs Sharks 10:30pm ET
  • Friday: Yankees vs Orioles 7:05pm ET, Lightning vs Habs 7:30pm ET, Heat vs Raptors 7:30pm ET
  • Saturday: Senators vs Rangers 12:30pm ET, Red Sox vs Tigers 1:10pm ET, Capitals vs Bruins 3:00pm ET, Blue Jays vs Rays 6:10pm ET, Penguins vs Leafs 7:00pm ET, Clippers vs Spurs 8:30pm ET, Flames vs Sharks 10:00pm ET
  • Sunday: Blue Jays vs Rays 1:10pm ET, Senators vs Islanders 5:00pm ET, (Last game at the Joe) Devils vs Red Wings 5:00pm ET, Penguins vs Rangers 7:00pm ET
  • Monday: Cardinals vs Nationals 7:05pm ET, Dodgers vs Cubs 8:05pm ET, Jazz vs Warriors 10:30pm ET, Rockets vs Clippers 10:30pm ET
  • Tuesday: Cardinals vs Nationals 7:05pm ET, (Jays’ Home Opener) Brewers vs Blue Jays 7:07pm ET, D-Backs vs Giants 10:15pm ET

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Mar. 22-29)

No Edwin No Problem: The Toronto Blue Jays Pitching Will Carry The Loadmaxresdefault

Many Blue Jays fans felt this off-season went poorly for the team, outside of salvaging Jose Bautista’s contract. I am not one of them. This roster is one that, when healthy, could be World Series caliber. I believe that, this off-season, the Jays got much better as a whole. They addressed many issues and were able to solve many internal problems by giving opportunities to younger players. Some fans are blind to what the Jays began to display last year, and that is a rotation that, has the potential to be among the MLB’s best.

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The five-man rotation that John Gibbons has designed for the Blue Jays this year is the best rotation they have had since 2008. While there is no established ace at this point, they have five pitchers who are proven winners. Marco Estrada is the Blue Jays Opening Day starter, and is coming off an excellent season. Estrada had the third best opponent batting average in the MLB amongst starters last year at .203. There were two other Jays in the Top 20 of this statistic, JA Happ and Aaron Sanchez, who combined for a win-loss record of 35-6 last season in 62 starts. The remaining two starters are Marcus Storman and Francisco Liriano. Neither had their best season last year, but both have the capability of adding 12+ wins apiece to a deadly Jays pitching staff. This Jays rotation is deep, and will give Toronto a chance to win every ballgame. Pitching is what carries teams in today’s MLB: four of the past five World Series champions were Top 10 in team earned run average (ERA). Of the past five years, last year was the only time the Blue Jays were amongst the Top 10. With four of last year’s five starters returning and the addition of Liriano, the Jays can expect to see even better pitching this season from their starters.

While Toronto’s starters were great last year, a struggling bullpen plagued the team all season. The Blue Jays team ERA last season was 3.78 with opponents hitting .242; the bullpen’s ERA was 4.11, and opponents’ batting average was .254. The Texas Rangers were the only other playoff team with a bullpen ERA over 4.00 last season, and they were swept by Toronto in the divisional round. Moreover, the Jays bullpen was the least active in the MLB last year, pitching only 464 innings. The mediocre bullpen held the Jays back last year substantially, and put an extra amount of pressure on their starters. The Jays 2017 bullpen, however, is slated to eliminate this weakness.

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The Blue Jays have a mixture of youth and veteran talent to carry their bullpen this season. Jason Grilli became a staple in the Jays pen when he arrived from Atlanta, posting a 3.64 ERA in 46 games last season. Much of the team’s off-season shopping was done to bring new faces to the bullpen. Joe Smith, Mike Bolsinger, and J.P. Howell were all added to bolster the relief staff. Smith is coming off a World Series win with the Chicago Cubs, and posted a 3.46 ERA during 2016. Howell had an okay 2016, but has made over 60 appearances in each of his last four seasons and is a workhorse. Bolsinger is entering his first season in the bullpen, and is somewhat of gamble. However, the 29-year old earned the trust of Jays manager John Gibbons and will start 2017 in the majors. The three other key members to the Jays’ bullpen success will be Ryan Tepera, Joe Biagini and Roberto Osuna. Tepera has never played a full season in Toronto, but has been impressive in 52 career appearances, posting a 3.16 ERA over that span. If this trend continues, he could become a valuable right-hander for the Jays. Biagini was the surprise of 2016 for Toronto, as the rookie logged 60 games, second most among Jays’ pitchers, and posted a 3.06 ERA. If Biagini can build on this fabulous rookie season, he could become the Jays’ star setup man. If so, Biagini would be setting up star closer Roberto Osuna. Osuna is a dominating closer who logged 74 innings, a 2.68 ERA, and a team-best 0.93 walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP) last season. Osuna and Biagini will not have to carry as heavy of a load this season, as the Jays have finally provided their bullpen with an excellent staff to grind out tight ballgames.

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Tight ballgames are not what Jays fans are used to. They are used to the team outslugging their opponents en route to victory. But, this has changed. Fans were left upset and felt betrayed when management and Edwin Encarnacion could not come to terms on a new contract. Encarnacion is now in Cleveland, which has left a sour taste in Jays’ fans mouths. The Jays acted quickly to get an insurance policy for Encarnacion, and that came in 33-year old  Kendrys Morales. Morales is not going to be Encarnacion, but, he has potential to hit .270, 30HRs and 90 RBIs. While this may still be a downgrade, the Jays finally have depth elsewhere in the lineup, and can rotate players in and out accordingly.

Melvin Upton Jr. struggled to find his stride in Toronto last season, so manager John Gibbons has decided to make Upton earn his spot and will have the speedy outfielder come off the bench. Upton’s ability to drive the ball and provide speed on the base path can have him pinch hit or even pinch run in key situations, which brings much needed versatility to the Jays. Next off the bench comes the underrated Steve Pearce who will play all around the diamond for the Jays. Pearce played every base defensively last year, and played both left and right field, showing his defensive versatility. He also brings a .288 batting average to the plate. Pearce will be Toronto’s contact hitter coming off the bench.

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The Jays bench was usually home to Josh Thole when Dickey was pitching. But, with Dickey gone so is Thole, so Jarrod Saltalamacchia jumped at the opportunity to play behind Russell Martin. Saltalamacchia, while primarily a catcher, can also play first base. Defensively his abilities are sound, while offensively he drives the ball, though he struggles to find contact. If Saltalamacchia can settle his bat down and hit .220 he will be more than serviceable for the Jays. Finally, the Jays are backed up defensively by Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney, who can play anywhere in the infield. Barney is the better hitter of the two, as he hits for contact consistently above .250. Other young names in the Jays system to keep an eye on are: Dalton Pompey, Richard Urena, Harold Ramirez and Anthony Alford, who could all potentially see some time in Toronto this season.

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While it would be nice to see those young names on the roster, let us hope it does not come to that. The Toronto Blue Jays are a good baseball team, no question, and their stars are young and in the prime of their careers. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are beginning to build for an arms race, meaning that now is the time to win. The Jays can win, but they need to be healthy. Devon Travis is vital to the Toronto’s success, the past two seasons he has posted Top-10 second baseman numbers when healthy. But, Travis has missed a lot of time over these past two years, and the Jays struggled to replace him in the interim. Furthermore, Jose Bautista was in and out of the lineup last year, and both Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki had injury woes. The team cannot win if it does not stay healthy. Toronto’s key to success will be their health. They have all the tools to make a World Series. The team’s pitching has not been this good since 2008, and the bats, while not as star studded as years past, remain strong and have newfound depth. The clock is ticking, and it is nearly high-noon in Toronto. If this team can stay healthy, they will be in the World Series.

 

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • The Minnesota Wild have gone from Stanley Cup contenders to Stanley Cup pretenders. In their last 10 games the Wild are 1-7-2, and, despite consistently leading the Chicago Blackhawks throughout the season, the Wild will find themselves as the #2 seed in the Central Division. The Wild’s lack of success comes in large part to Devan Dubnyk’s recent play. At one point this season he seemed like the frontrunner for the Vezina, but in March, Duby’s numbers tell a different story: 3-8-2, a .889 save percentage and a 2.94 goals against average. Dubnyk will need to improve on those numbers if the Wild want to have any success in the playoffs.
  • How often do the Colorado Avalanche score a goal? Not very often. It is so rare that their Twitter account grew impatient on Wednesday night. This tweet was hilarious, as has been the Avalanche’s season. The Avalanche somehow actually manage less than two goals per game, which makes it easy to understand why they are dead last by a country mile. Do not worry, though, Avalanche fans. You have a friend in the Arizona Coyotes, who share your feeling of mediocrity.

Stars of the Week

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  • The Carolina Hurricanes have surprisingly made a late-season charge. The Canes have earned at least a point in 12 straight games, thanks in large part to the goaltending duo of Eddie Lack and Cam Ward. Over this twelve game span, the tandem has a combined 2.5 goals against per game. They have been complimented by a red-hot Jeff Skinner who has 11 goals in this 12 game span. Skinner is having a career year with 31 goals and 55 points, and will need to continue to deal damage if the Canes want to make up the four-point gap between themselves and the Boston Bruins.
  • The Anaheim Ducks have won seven of their last eight games. In six of these eight games, the Ducks have allowed two goals or less. This speaks volumes to their defensive structure and goaltending. Surprisingly, the goaltending success recently has not come from John Gibson, but instead from Jonathan Bernier. After being dealt from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Ducks in the off-season for a conditional pick, Bernier has been solid with a record of 19-7-3, a .919 save percentage and a 2.42 goals against average. Gibson may be struggling, but Head Coach Randy Carlyle has to be satisfied with having a goaltending competition, if it is resulting in wins.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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  • The Toronto Raptors won three out of a possible four games this week, winning comfortably in all three. Norman Powell and Cory Joseph have both been getting more touches offensively and putting in their fair share of baskets. This backcourt scoring has helped take some pressure off of DeMar DeRozan, who continues to torch opponents from the mid-range and inside with 27.2 points per game on the season
  • The Raptors now trail the Washington Wizards by a single game, and have even closed the gap on first place in the Eastern Conference, as they now trail the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers by three games. While it is appearing less likely the Raptors could overtake the Cavs or Celtics, there is still a strong possibility they could catch the Wizards for third. With an easier schedule the rest of the way, other than an April 12th meeting with the Cavs, the Raptors could feasibly run the table or take six of their last seven games.

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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  1. Warriors (61-14)
  • Full credit to the Golden State Warriors. They battled back from being down double digits against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday and surprised a lot of people, myself included. The Warriors have now won their last nine and with their win over the Spurs, have almost certainly locked up first place in the Western Conference. Steph Curry has elevated his game over this stretch scoring at least 20 in all but one of those nine wins. If Kevin Durant can be back in time for the playoffs, watch out, because the Warriors seem to be clicking once again.
  1. Spurs (57-17)
  • Gregg Popovich had a reason to smile, but also a reason to scold his team this week. The Spurs continued their winning ways, stringing five wins together, including a 103-74 thumping delivered to the Cavs; but they blew a big lead versus the Warriors. After getting off to a hot start, the Spurs struggled to find their touch and shot 41% from the field. The season series is at 2-1 in favour of the Spurs, but this one has to sting for the Spurs as there were stars resting during this affair.
  1. Celtics (48-27)
  • The Celtics are tied for first in the Eastern Conference, and their fans are pretty excited about it. However, it is important to note that this team has not reached their peak just yet. There is still lots of work to be done by the Celtics and they were humbled by the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday in a 103-100 loss. The Celtics still have a good shot at holding onto first, despite having played more games than the Cavs, as the two meet on April 5th. If the Celtics win this game, they may just be able to lock up first place.
  1. Rockets (51-23)
  • The Houston Rockets have scored 100 points or more in every single game they have played since November 21st. That is ludicrous, and speaks volumes to how good James Harden has been as the Rockets’ catalyst offensively. The team goes as Harden goes, and the bearded one is averaging 29.3PPG, 8RPG, and 11.4APG. Those numbers are MVP-like, and have made it a two horse race between him and Russell Westbrook. However, Harden is likely not concerned with that, as his primary concern will be the playoffs, which are just around the corner.
  1. Cavaliers (47-26)
  • The Cavaliers are still tied for first in the Eastern Conference, which is great, but they have been nothing of the sort lately. Cleveland got whacked by the Wizards and then the Spurs this week, with LeBron James in the lineup for both games. The Cavs do not appear high and mighty, and LeBron will have to likely carry this team if they want any shot at taking down the Warriors or Spurs. At this rate, it may be fairly difficult for them to get past the Celtics, which does not bode well for Cleveland.

 

What to watch this week?

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  • Thursday: Cavaliers vs Bulls 8:00pm ET, Leafs vs Predators 8:00pm ET, Sharks vs Oilers 9:00pm ET
  • Friday: Penguins vs Rangers 7:00pm ET, Spurs vs Thunder 8:00pm ET, Blue Jackets vs Blackhawks 8:30pm ET, Sharks vs Flames 9:00pm ET, Rockets vs Warriors 10:30pm ET
  • Saturday: March Madness 6:09pm ET, Canadiens vs Lightning 7:00pm ET, Ducks vs Oilers 10:00pm ET
  • Sunday: Bruins vs Blackhawks 12:30pm ET, Jazz vs Spurs 3:30pm ET, Capitals vs Blue Jackets 6:00pm ET, Wizards vs Warriors 8:00pm ET, Ducks vs Flames 9:30pm ET
  • Monday: National Championship Basketball TBD, Senators vs Red Wings 7:00pm ET, Leafs vs Sabres 7:00pm ET
  • Tuesday: Lightning vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Blue Jackets vs Penguins 7:00pm ET, Raptors vs Pacers 7:00pm ET, Grizzlies vs Spurs 8:30pm ET, Flames vs Ducks 10:00pm ET, Rangers vs Sharks 10:30pm ET

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.

Just My Thoughts: The World of Sports (Mar. 15-21)

The Man Who Can Stickhandle Between Raindrops: The Underrated Marian Hossa

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As a young hockey fan, I did not understand trades. When Marian Hossa was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers, I presumed that meant I could not like Hossa anymore. He was not on the Ottawa Senators, which meant he was the enemy! Around the age of 14, I realized how amazing Hossa was, and how stupid I was for pretending he did not exist. Watching him tear through the playoff with the Chicago Blackhawks was truly a gift. I watched those Blackhawk games with my father, who is not much of a hockey buff, but he always enjoys watching the Senators and the playoffs. After Hossa made a fabulous play, stickhandling around just about everyone on the ice, my dad said one of my favourite lines ever. “Josh, ya know what they used to say about Hossa on the Sens broadcast? They said he could stickhandle between raindrops.” My dad is not one to remember sports history, but there is a reason that stuck with him. It was an apt description for a magnificent hockey player.

Marian Hossa has played 1300 games in the NHL and recorded 1128 points. But, these solid statistics still do not do him justice. Hossa deserves an immense amount of praise for his ability to be effective without the puck. The Slovakian superstar has received votes for the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) in 12 of his 18 seasons, and in 6 of those was in the Top 15 in voting. Selke Trophy winners are typically rough and tough competitors, and you would not think of a smooth-skating European being good defensively. But, Hossa uses his lower-body strength and his terrific stick to create turnovers and transition into an offensive breakout. It is a unique talent to do the things Hossa can do with his stick in such tight spaces, and in one motion. Hossa is one of the smoothest operators there is, and is able to be smooth even when in the dirty areas. Hossa’s ability to be continuously active without the puck in the defensive zone, neutral zone and even offensive zone while fore-checking makes him invaluable.

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Hossa’s contributions without the puck are exceptional, but it is important to understand that he was not just an average two-way forward; he was, and is, among the league’s best. Hossa may not be the top guy anymore, or an all-star, but he is undoubtedly one of the best 35+ year old players in this league. When Hossa joined the Blackhawks in 2009, he was 30. Since joining the team, his numbers have been startling. Since the 2009-10 season, Hossa has 409 points in 525 games and is a +133. There are only five players with a higher plus/minus than that (Crosby, Toews, Marchand, Bergeron and Chara). Hossa’s penalty killing ability is otherworldly as well, as he has the third most shorthanded points in the league (24) since 2009-10. His crafty stick work translates to offensive opportunities, and he plays a true 200 foot game. Hossa’s stick has led him to becoming an astoundingly good playmaker, as he can find his teammates without hesitation.

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Hossa is also an underrated goal scorer, and earlier this season reached the 500 goal plateau. Hossa has been a consistent threat throughout his career, having scored 20 goals in 15 of his 18 seasons; for context, there are only 25 other men in league history who have recorded 15 or more seasons of 20+ goals. Hossa’s gift as a goal scorer comes from his wonderful hands, quick release, and most importantly, his patience. Hossa, when given space, will make a goaltender look like a confused gymnast, and stretch them all over the net. He will conclude by using his quick release to deposit the puck in the gaping net.

As a fan, it is important to have fun watching these players. Ryan Getzlaf may be an elite centre, but his style of play can be boring to watch. Hossa is fun to watch, and he does it all. He can hit, use his acceleration to create a scoring opportunity, or stickhandle through a platoon of players. Hossa covers all bases.

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But, this begs the question: how great is Hossa? He has 1000 points, 500 goals, and three Stanley Cup rings. After losing in 2009 Stanley Cup Final, Hossa signed a 12-year $62.3 million contract with the Blackhawks. Hossa took heat for the contract, which led to an apparent investigation, as the contract was front-loaded and the NHL doubted Hossa’s likeliness to play until 42. Amid controversy, Hossa produced 51 points in 57 games during the 2009-10 season, then chipped in with 15 points in 22 games during the playoffs to, bring Chicago its first Cup in 49 years.

Had Hossa not signed with Chicago, he might have been one of the greatest ever to not win the Cup. But, he saw potential in the Blackhawks, and by joining a dynasty he solidified himself as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Hossa has never been “the guy,” but he is one of the greatest sidekicks of all-time. Hossa has lined up alongside the likes of Daniel Alfredsson, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews. Hossa is more than just a secondary contributor, though. He is one of the league’s best winners. Since the 2000-01 season, no one has played in more playoff games than Marian Hossa, and the margin is significant. Hossa has played in 191 playoff games since 2000-01; the closest to him is Pavel Datsyuk at 157. More importantly, Hossa has the most points since 2000-01 with 147. In his career, Hossa has played 201 playoff games, good for 19th all-time. At this pace, and given Hossa’s longevity, he has a good chance to pass Chris Chelios (266 games) for the most all-time.

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As an Ottawa Senators fan it still hurts me that management decided to trade Hossa for Dany Heatley in 2005. Hossa’s proven playoff performance begs the question: did losing Hossa cost the Senators the Stanley Cup? Ottawa should never have given up Hossa. The Atlanta Thrashers were in a tight spot when Heatley asked for a trade after the car accident that killed, Dan Snyder. Other trades could have been pursued to keep Hossa in Ottawa. The Blackhawks ended up with one of the best players of his era, and he has rewarded fans with magnificent play on a nightly basis. No fan, in Ottawa, Chicago, or any other city in the NHL, will ever forget watching the man who could stickhandle through raindrops.

 

NHL News

The Penalty Box

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  • The Boston Bruins have hit a rut. After going 12-3-0 under interim Head Coach Bruce Cassidy, the B’s have now lost three in a row and have the Toronto Maple Leafs hot on their tails. If the Leafs overtake the Bruins, Boston will fall to the second wild-card spot and have a date with the Metropolitan Division’s winner in the playoffs. That is, assuming the Bruins can hold off the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, who have games in hand on the Bruins. Brad Marchand has led the way all year for the Bruins, and he will need to be play his absolute best if he wants to assure the Bruins post-season hockey.
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning have allowed 15 goals in their last three games, and the heavy workload has taken its toll on young goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy is a talented individual, but he has never logged more than 32 games in an NHL season (post-season included). He has already appeared in 42 games this year for the Lightning, and fatigue has caught up to him. His teammates have not given him their best effort in the last three games, as they came out flat against Toronto, were beaten by a better team against Washington, and lost a must-win against Arizona. The Toronto game was winnable, but the Arizona loss is inexcusable. Tampa Bay is now four points back of the playoffs, and their playoff hopes looks grim.

Stars of the Week

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  • In an odd turn of events, the St. Louis Blues have made a serious playoff push despite trading Kevin Shattenkirk. The Blues now find themselves third in the Central Division, and have won eight of their last nine games. Much of this turnaround can be credited to tighter defensive play, and serious improvements from Jake Allen. Allen has had seven starts over this nine game stretch, winning six of the seven and sporting, a 1.29 goals against average and a .956 save percentage. He has been lights out. Vladimir Tarasenko has done his part offensively, as he has six goals and eight points over the nine game stretch. It appears as though St. Louis will see post-season hockey, but their success from there on out will dependent on how well Jake Allen plays.
  • Huge praise goes to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last season the Blue Jackets had 34 wins and 76 points. This year, with 11 games remaining, they have 100 points, have clinched a playoff position and may win the Metropolitan Division. Head Coach John Tortorella should win the Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year) for their incredible turnaround. Sergei Bobrovsky has been phenomenal after dropping weight this summer. Bobrovsky has a league-best 39 wins, and has a .931 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average. Expect Bobrovsky to be the front-runner for the Vezina.

NBA News

The Weekly Rap

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  • The Toronto Raptors had a rallying cry on Tuesday. The Raps were getting pummeled by the Chicago Bulls, and the Bulls looked to be on route to their twelfth consecutive victory over the Raptors. Then, chaos erupted. Raptors’ power forward Serge Ibaka gave Bulls’ centre Robin Lopez a shot in the back, and a scuffle ensued, with Lopez and Ibaka throwing punches. Players, officials and coaches came to break up the fight, which saw ejections for both Ibaka and Lopez. Trailing 88-72, the Raptors went on a tear led by DeMar DeRozan and erased the 16 point deficit to force overtime, where they would win 122-120. The Raptors had been cursed against the Bulls since 2014, but on Tuesday evening they broke the curse. The team should rally around this victory, and use it as an example of perseverance for the remainder of the season.
  • The Raptors now trail the Washington Wizards by half a game, and still have the Boston Celtics in their sights trailing by three games. Over the next two weeks the Raptors will have an easier schedule, playing some of the NBA’s lesser talented clubs. If they want to catch-up and pass both of the aforementioned teams, they will need to go on a run. With a three-game winning streak right now, the Raptors have a good chance to go a run, and the post-season approaches it is vital they play their best basketball.

Top 5 NBA Power Ranking

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  1. Spurs (54-16)
  • San Antonio may be second in the Western Conference, but they have both wins over the Golden State Warriors, and they will likely stay in first until the Warriors beat them. This could come sooner rather than later, as the two teams are slated for a showdown on March 29th. Hopefully, for the sake of the fans, the superstars will play. Controversy aside, the Spurs had two close losses this week, but as usual they bounced right back with two wins and will look to build momentum towards next week’s rematch against the Warriors.
  1. Warriors (57-14)
  • The Warriors’ bad form has been pushed aside, as they overtook the Spurs for first place in the Western Conference and are on a five-game win streak. The turnaround can largely be attributed to their fourth quarter comeback against the Philadelphia 76ers, which kicked off this win streak. Since that game, Steph Curry has not had to play a single fourth quarter minute, as the game was out of reach after the third. The Warriors will need to uphold this high standard of play if they want to beat the Spurs in a week, and you can bet they have that date circled on their calendars.
  1. Cavaliers (46-23)
  • Another big game on national television, and another trio of stars were given the night off. A common theme in the NBA, accompanied by another common theme: that the Cleveland Cavaliers cannot win a game without LeBron James. Without the big three, the Cavs were thrashed on Saturday by the Los Angeles Clippers. They, still managed to win their games against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, though, so it was a standard week for Cleveland.
  1. Celtics (45-26)
  • The Boston Celtics continue to chip away at Cleveland’s lead in the East, and now trail by only two games. They had an impressive win against the Wizards on Monday, which saw the Celtics’ depth shine, with five players reaching double digit point totals. This depth will be vital down the stretch, as Isaiah Thomas cannot carry this Celtics team every night without suffering fatigue. The Celtics will look to close the gap on the Cavaliers before their April 5th showdown, which could play a huge factor in deciding the top seed for the Eastern Conference.
  1. Raptors (42-29)
  • There is some East bias here, but the Raptors have won four of their last five, all without Kyle Lowry, and look ready to hit that next level. This is not just a Raptors team that is winning without Lowry, but it is one that looks strong. That makes Lowry’s return that much more exciting. Could this Raptors team really top last year’s run? Time will tell. But, continuing to win without Lowry would give them the swagger and confidence to believe they could.

 

What to watch this week?

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  • Wednesday: Maple Leafs vs Blue Jackets 7:00pm ET, Islanders vs Rangers 8:00pm ET, Oilers vs Ducks 10:00pm ET
  • Thursday: March Madness 7:09pm ET, Lightning vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Blue Jackets vs Capitals 7:00pm ET, Penguins vs Senators 7:30pm ET, Raptors vs Heat 7:30pm ET, Grizzlies vs Spurs 8:30pm ET
  • Friday: Islanders vs Penguins 7:00pm ET, March Madness 7:09pm ET
  • Saturday: March Madness TBD, Jazz vs Clippers 3:30pm ET, Senators vs Canadiens 7:00pm ET, Flames vs Blues 7:00pm ET, Islanders vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Wizards vs Cavaliers 7:30pm ET, Sharks vs Predators 8:00pm ET, Rangers vs Kings 10:30pm ET
  • Sunday: March Madness TBD, Thunder vs Rockets 3:30pm ET, Grizzlies vs Warriors 8:00pm ET, Rangers vs Ducks 9:00pm ET
  • Monday: Blackhawks vs Lightning 7:30pm ET, Cavaliers vs Spurs 8:00pm ET
  • Tuesday: Panthers vs Maple Leafs 7:30pm ET, Capitals vs Wild 8:00pm ET, Warriors vs Rockets 8:00pm ET, Kings vs Oilers 9:00pm ET, Rangers vs Sharks 10:30pm ET

Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.